Education Ministry Touts anti-Arab, Pro-theocracy Book for Israeli Schools

Book on ministry's recommended reading list says Jews 'have no desire' to have Arab gentiles in their midst.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at a podium, December 2015.
Ofer Vaknin

Among the books on the Education Ministry’s recommended reading list for high school pupils is one that promotes the idea that Jews “have no desire at all” to have Arab gentiles in their midst, and that “more holiness has to be brought into the State of Israel until we reach a Torah state.”

The ministry’s “March of Books” project to encourage reading has been publishing separate lists of recommended books for religious and secular high schools, and for the past two years has been tagging books that are not suitable for religious children on the unified reading lists for younger children.

However, “Adventures in the Rimonim Library: On a Rightward Pillard,” by Rabbi Yikhat Rozen of the Or Etzion Yeshiva, is on the recommended list for young children in both the religious and secular educational systems.

It tells the story of Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli, who was a leading rabbi of religious Zionism, by means of two children, Uri and Yael, who travel though time and meet Rabbi Yisraeli at various points in his life story in Israel and abroad.

One chapter tells about the period prior to the declaration of the state. “I deeply hope that we really do win but until that happens we shall have to pray a great deal and make a huge effort,” says one of the characters. “The Arabs will not sit quietly. They will not agree to stop until Heaven forbid they wipe out every settlement and every Jewish dot on the map! You must know: The Arabs have a clear plan about how to attack every settlement, to conquer the place, to burn all the houses and Heaven forbid to throw us all into the sea.”

In another chapter there is a discussion of Jewish law on milking cows on the Sabbath. “When we were outside the land no one ever even thought about touching his cow on the Sabbath. They just called in the gentile neighbor and he did the work for us. But here, in our land, that’s not how it goes. The Arab gentiles live in villages of their own and we have no desire to have them here among us, and along the way they might also harm us or spy on us.”

The March of Books program is a long-established Education Ministry project that aims to encourage children and teens to read books. Last year more than 1,300 schools and about 900 kindergartens from all sectors participated in the project. Youngsters in grades 1 through 12 read books from the list and other books they choose themselves, and in the end they select their favorite. Reading lists for the various age groups are set by a 14-member committee of Education Ministry officials, librarians and experts on literature.

In response to the Rozen book’s entry to the reading list, a literature teacher in the south said: ”Why is it that the religious schools are allowed to say that a certain book doesn’t suit them but at the same time it’s permissible to push anything they want into the secular schools, even if it borders on incitement and racism? Instead of stopping hatred of the other for a moment, the Education Ministry is also fanning the hatred.”

For many years there was just one list of recommended books for both education systems. In the 2013-2014 school year, when Rabbi Shay Piron was minister of education, for the first time separate but partially overlapping lists were published for religious and non-religious high schools. For the past two years, on the single list for younger children, books considered unsuitable for use in the religious education system have been marked by asterisks.

Among the “unsuitable” books is the Israeli classic, “The Girl I Love,” a story in verse by Yehuda Atlas with illustrations by Danny Kerman. The book jacket states that the protagonist, a boy in elementary school, “looks around with a very sharp eye that is critical of adults’ errors and phoniness and tries to understand the world he lives in, and himself.” The first verse reads: “The girl I love / Loves another kid / So maybe I’ll become a poet / When I am big. “

A source familiar with the details says the reason for declaring the book unsuitable for religious schools is that “the outlook of the boy in the poem is not the outlook of a child from a religious family, who takes care to honor his father and mother and to speak politely.”

In response, Atlas told Haaretz: “This is another phase in an overall process of censorship of non-profit organizations and the civics textbook. In fact, this isn’t a creeping process but rather one that is racing ahead very fast. Religious children are as critical of their parents as secular children are. The attempt by the religious education system to feed them only olive oil will cause them to lash out at the establishment and lose their faith in it.

“When I write books,” Atlas continued, “I don’t intend them for one particular sector or another. The child I write for has a very good eye for when adults falsify, don’t tell the truth or complain needlessly. We all have human moments like that. And this child tells the truth, among other things about relationships between children and within the family.”

Among the books tagged as unsuitable for young children is a new Hebrew translation of “Madicken” by Swedish author Astrid Lundgren.

Education Ministry spokesman Amos Shavit declined to address the issue.