The Education Ministry dismissed its head of civics studies on Sunday despite calls by hundreds of educators to reject right-wing demands that he be ousted. MK Einat Wilf (Atzmaut ), chairwoman of the Knesset's Education, Culture and Sports Committee, said Adar Cohen's dismissal was likely to lead to a "crisis of confidence" between the Education Ministry and civics teachers.
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Cohen has been under attack for promoting civics textbooks that political scientist Avraham Diskin, one of his foremost critics and author of a rival civics textbook, claims will teach students "post-Zionism."
Even though some on the right pushed for Cohen's dismissal, the Education Ministry, run by Likud minister Gideon Sa'ar, said the decision to fire Cohen rather than give him tenure was not based on political considerations.
"The director-general's decision was made after an extended professional process over the last few months," the ministry said in a statement. It said director- general Dalit Stauber "reached the decision that because of the professional failures she found in his conduct as civics studies head, he will not be permitted to continue to serve in this position."
A complaint filed with the Civil Service Commission recently charged that Cohen had forged minutes of meetings, but the commission found no grounds for disciplinary proceedings, and educators backing Cohen said his job performance and high level of professionalism had earned him broad support. They also protested what they said was an effort to place greater emphasis in the curriculum on particularistic Jewish values than on universal democratic ones.
Wilf said she expects the Education Ministry to release a detailed explanation of its reasons for refusing to grant Cohen tenure.
"I expect the considerations that went into this decision to be released in full, and that they will be open to the public," she said, adding that she met with civics teachers of different political stripes and asked the Education Ministry on Thursday to meet with them before they reached a decision.
Before Stauber announced that Cohen would not be coming back, she rejected the request to meet with her from a teachers' group formed to defend Cohen.
"A decision could not have been made on a professional basis without the voices of the teachers, as professionals, being heard," said Wilf, adding that her committee would convene to discuss the issue after the reasons for the move are released.
MK Alex Miller of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, who preceded Wilf as head of the Knesset's education committee, called the decision to oust Cohen "well-considered and brave."
The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, which lists safeguarding the Jewish presence in Israel and developing legislation to preserve Jewish land ownership among its aims, also welcomed the decision.
"The campaign that left-wing and far-left activists conducted on behalf of Adar Cohen proved that the civics director was a political appointment who operated based on a political agenda, not in an objective and professional manner," said Nachi Eyal, head of the NGO.
More than 500 civics teachers recently signed a public petition addressed to Sa'ar saying that critics like Diskin misunderstand Cohen's work. It was one of dozens of letters and petitions sent to the Education Ministry asking it not to push Cohen out because of his presumed political leanings.
"His dismissal would mean that clear politicization is gaining control of the Education Ministry," Mordechai Kremnitzer, a retired law professor and a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, wrote in a letter to the ministry last month. "Only someone sworn to an extremist nationalist political outlook regarding Judea and Samaria is considered 'kosher' to be the national coordinator of civics, and maybe most of the other positions in the Education Ministry. Woe to the education system in Israel if Adar Cohen is dismissed from his job," Kremnitzer wrote.