Educator Resigns in Protest After Civics Supervisor Sacked

A legal scholar at Zefat Academic College has resigned from the Education Ministry's committee of experts on civics to protest the dismissal of the ministry's civics studies head, Adar Cohen.

"I am protesting all the political figures who, in an extremely unusual fashion, persecuted Adar Cohen for months," said Mohammed Wattad.

Cohen's supporters accuse the ministry of ousting him in response to pressure from right-wing critics who were upset by Cohen's approval of a civics textbook that they claim teaches post-Zionism.

Among other things, the book points out a contradiction between Jewish tradition and democracy and discusses right-wing violence in Israel.

"Who says Israeli schoolchildren should learn civics as a synonym for either nationalism or democracy?" Wattad asked. "They need to learn all the opinions that exist in the marketplace of ideas. Let's give them the dignity of adopting positions for themselves. The concept of paternalistic instruction that imposes a single viewpoint infringes on their dignity."

The Education Ministry has appointed Eliraz Kraus, who heads its society and humanities department, as the acting head of civics studies to replace Cohen.

Cohen was fired Sunday despite calls by hundreds of educators to reject demands to oust him. The ministry said the decision was made based purely on professional considerations. But Wattad and others said Cohen's conduct was always professional.

"He worked with the experts committee, with optimal cooperation," Wattad wrote in his resignation letter sent Sunday to the chairman of the experts committee, political scientist Asher Cohen. "It therefore seems that if the decision of the Education Ministry's director general [to fire Cohen] was professional and matter-of-fact - as I hope it was - it is necessary to dismiss all members of the experts committee as a collective."

No matter what motivated the decision, Wattad said later, it was mistaken.

"I think the dismissal of Adar Cohen fundamentally damages the State of Israel as a constitutional democratic country, as well as damages its image," Wattad wrote in the letter. "I have always done everything I could to distance myself from politics. It seems that today, even the experts committee on civics is not operating in a vacuum and that political winds are blowing all around."

Wattad told Haaretz he was "not willing to cooperate" with efforts to unduly politicize the curriculum.

Supporters from across the political spectrum had launched a campaign to keep the ministry from dismissing Cohen for reasons they described as "political persecution," but ministry director general Dalit Stauber refused their request to meet with her before Cohen was fired.

They plan to meet today to discuss what their next step will be.

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.