Books Dealing With Jewish-Arab Relations Removed From School Matric Curriculum

At least one of the two novels was admittedly removed for 'political reasons.'

A cover for Sami Michael's 'A Trumpet in the Wadi.'
Screenshot, Amazon

Two novels dealing with Jewish-Arab relations have been removed from the list of recommended school reading for the matriculation exam. 

The Biton Committee, tasked with monitoring how Mizrahi heritage is taught in schools, delisted Sami Michael’s “A Trumpet in the Wadi,” which has been on the curriculum for years, and banned “Refuge,” also by Michael, for “political reasons.” The first book was replaced by another by the same author.

Michael, who was born in Baghdad and is president of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said, “It’s ironic that the committee is burning one of the students’ oldest bridges to the world of Mizrahi Jews.”

Poet Erez Biton, the chairman of the committee, said the intention wasn’t to bar books that were already part of the curriculum, like “A Trumpet in the Wadi.” “We suggested that if it was excluded, it could be replaced with ‘A Handful of Fog,’” he said.

Biton said he wasn’t part of the sub-committee dealing with the matriculation curriculum. “They submitted their recommendations to me and I passed them on. The Education Ministry has the last say in what to replace and what to leave in. We don’t impose anything. It’s only recommendations,” he said.

“A Trumpet in the Wadi, Michael’s most popular novel, tells the story of a love affair between the narrator, a young Arab woman, and a Jewish man in Haifa. It is is taught in numerous high schools.

The sub-committee recommended one of two novels for compulsory reading – “Scapegoat” by Eli Amir and “A Handful of Fog” by Michael.

Several committee members supported including “A Trumpet in the Wadi” in the compulsory reading list. When the panel’s report was released, they found to their surprise that the less popular “A Handful of Fog,” which is not currently in the curriculum, had been recommended.

One panel member, who was reluctant to give her name, said as far as she was aware, “A Trumpet in the Wadi” was the panel’s choice. Only after the report came out did she find that “A Handful of Fog” was on the list instead. Published in 1979, the book describes the lives of Jews in Iraq at the end of the ‘40s through the story of Ramzi, a Jewish revolutionary in the Communist underground in Baghdad. The novel is partly based on Michael’s own life.

The chairwoman of the sub-committee that dealt with literature, Dr. Oshra Alfasi, told Haaretz that “A Handful of Fog” was chosen “because ‘A Trumpet in the Wadi’ is already a popular book that’s in the curriculum.”

“What interest do we have in promoting something that’s already promoted?” she asked. “‘A Handful of Fog’ isn’t read enough.”

However, “Scapegoat,” which the panel had no problem recommending, is also an extremely popular book and is on the curriculum of numerous high schools.

Michael’s novel “Refuge,” which was published in 1977 and deals with Jewish-Arab relations in Haifa during the Yom Kippur War, was barred from the list for political reasons.

A book dealing with “the Palestinian-Jewish discourse, not to say communist, didn’t seem relevant to us to put into the curriculum,” Alfasi said.

Other committee members refused to comment on whether there were political considerations behind the decision to exclude “A Trumpet in the Wadi.” A member of the Education Ministry’s literature panel said she believed “the Biton Committee assumed today’s Education Ministry wouldn’t approve a book dealing with Arabs as compulsory reading.”

As for “A Handful of Fog,” she said, “they apparently looked for something about Jews in an exile that wasn’t Eastern Europe.”