Israel Education Ministry Blacklisting Preschools That Don't Fly the Flag

The authorities are drawing up a list of which preschools have a special 'national corner,' which includes a portrait of the president. It's not clear whether Arab preschools are scrutinized.

A 'national corner' at a preschool in Tel Aviv, January 2017.
Eyal Toueg

The Education Ministry has instructed preschool teachers to ensure that all their schools have an Israeli “national corner” replete with the Israeli flag and a picture of President Reuven Rivlin.

The ministry already sent out instructions on the matter to Jerusalem preschool teachers about a month ago and said it wanted to know which schools were complying.

“We have a great deal of respect for the country and its symbols, but coercion, a blacklist and punishments aren’t the way to develop this,” said a preschool teacher who has received the note.

On Tuesday, the Education Ministry declined to provide more details on the effort.

A ministry inspector sent the directive to the Jerusalem teachers in an email. In the directive obtained by Haaretz, the inspector said the request had originated with the ministry’s legal advisers.

“I am requesting to know in which preschools a flag and picture of the president are found and in which they are not,” the inspector said in the email. She said preschools that had received the letter would have to explain themselves if they did not set up such a corner.

The email appears to have been sent to preschool teachers in state-run schools but not in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish system. It is not clear whether Arab preschools have received the instructions.

The directive is not based on a new policy or rules coming from Education Minister Naftali Bennett. According to an official at the Education Ministry, the instructions are an attempt by ministry officials to respond to a Freedom of Information Law request that asked how many preschools have a flag and picture of the president.

The inspector, however, appeared to contradict herself when she said the ministry “does not intend to go through every educational institution and check whether it has a national corner.” Current ministry regulations require the main building of “every recognized educational institution” to fly the Israeli flag.

According to the email, in addition to the picture of Rivlin and the flag, other symbols may be added “according to your judgment.” These include the State of Israel’s menorah emblem, the lyrics to the national anthem “Hatikva,” and information on the capital Jerusalem.

“In addition, I recommend that the national corner be developed into an active and important corner,” the inspector wrote.

The preschool teacher from Jerusalem said she was surprised. “At first we thought it was a joke. The wording of the letter was hard to believe,” she said.

“A lot of preschools have such a corner, and usually they use them during the period from Holocaust Remembrance Day through Independence Day to Jerusalem Day, when we bring out all the country’s symbols from the storeroom like pictures of the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of staff, the president, the prime minister and the flag,” she added.

“The idea of preparing a list of preschools that have or don’t have such a corner sounds absurd. Is this the most urgent task today? Is this what the Education Ministry is devoting resources to, so much so that the Education Ministry doesn’t trust its own teachers?”

According to someone involved in preschool education, when teachers put up a “corner” in a preschool they are supposed to properly explain the theme to the children. He said teachers choose their own way to approach the subject, so the instruction handed down from above seems unreasonable.

Such corners usually change based on factors like the curriculum, the season and holidays. He said he did not think a permanent “national corner” was appropriate for a preschool.