Two Members Quit Israeli Curriculum Panel Over Exclusion of Novel on Jewish-Arab Romance

Sigal Naor-Perelman and Pnina Shirav said they’d hoped for feedback on their criticism of the decision not to put Dorit Rabinyan’s ‘Borderlife’ on an advanced high-school reading list.

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Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan poses with her Hebrew-language novel titled 'Gader Haya' (known in English as 'Borderlife') on December 31, 2015 at her home in Tel Aviv.
Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan poses with her Hebrew-language novel titled 'Gader Haya' (known in English as 'Borderlife') on December 31, 2015 at her home in Tel Aviv. Credit: AFP

Two members of an Education Ministry advisory committee resigned recently to protest the decision several months ago not to include a novel depicting a romance between an Israeli Jewish woman and an Israeli Arab man on the recommended reading list for high-school students.

Sigal Naor-Perelman and Pnina Shirav said they waited for seven months after the panel’s recommendation to make Dorit Rabinyan’s “Borderlife” an optional reading choice was rejected because they wanted to give Education Minister Naftali Bennett a chance to respond to their criticism of the decision on the book.

In late December, a report by Haaretz revealed the Education Ministry’s decision, which went against both its high-school literature curriculum committee and the ministry official in charge of setting curriculum.

The committee had recommended the novel’s inclusion as optional reading for advanced students based in part on the requests of many teachers.

The acting chairman of the ministry’s pedagogic secretariat, Dalia Fenig, explained the exclusion as being necessary to preserve “the identity and the heritage of students in all sectors,” adding that “intimate relations between Jews and non-Jews threatens that separate identity.”

Fenig also expressed concern that “adolescents don’t have the overarching viewpoint that includes considerations of maintaining the people’s national identity and the significance of miscegenation.”

In her resignation letter, Naor-Perelman wrote: “The reasons for invalidating Rabinyan’s book for teaching — and I refuse to use any word other than ‘invalidating’ — are nothing but racism for its own sake.

“Not only are our leaders inculcating racist and violent thought which leads to racist and violent behavior, but there are those who concur with the leaders’ views and have added some ideas of their own, like the decision to invalidate Rabinyan’s book. The decision, of course, got the leadership’s retroactive approval,” Naor-Perelman wrote.

“Primarily I’m very distressed by the fact that the [literature] committee did not see this invalidation as a line that cannot be crossed and did not react immediately. The late meeting with the education minister couldn’t have been expected to change anything,” she wrote, adding: “History will judge the phrase ‘it’s not so terrible,’ being heard frequently in Israeli society these days, particularly from the nonracists. All this ‘not so terrible’ is quietly piling up into ‘terrible.’ Only at the edge of the abyss will the veil be lifted from the face of this most terrible [thing].”

In a conversation with Haaretz, Naor-Perelman said: “The primary concern is that the committee’s future decisions will be influenced by the internalizing of the ‘ministry spirit.’ The subject committee is not a rubber stamp serving the ministry, but a professional committee weighing literature issues.

“Literature is not a political pamphlet but deals with human beings,” she continued. “To demand that multidimensional literature serve as a one-dimensional poster promoting a political agenda is a fascist demand that must be categorically resisted.”

According to a knowledgable source, Bennett met with Naor-Perelman and Shirav only in April, four months after the matter was first reported. According to the source, the two committee members hoped to receive a response to their criticism offered of the ministry’s conduct, but none was forthcoming. As a result, they decided to resign.

In a statement of response, the Education Ministry said it regretted the departure of the two committee members and thanked them for years of devoted educational activity. “The ministry will appoint new committee members shortly,” the statement said.

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