Education Ministry Okays New 'Ethnocentric' Civics Textbook

Arab MKs, academics protest absence of Arab among authors.

High school students in Tel Aviv (illustrative).
Moti Milrod

The Education Ministry announced Tuesday that it has approved a controversial new edition of its civics textbook, which will go to press in about six weeks.

The statement was issued a few hours after several MKs criticized the ministry over the new textbook, among other issues, at a meeting of the Knesset Education Committee.

The ministry boasted in its statement that civics is the only subject taught identically in all three state-run school systems – secular, religious and Arab. But Arab MKs and activists said that since not a single Arab was involved in writing the new textbook, they will urge Arab schools to boycott it.

Amro Agbaria, who resigned this week from the ministry’s professional advisory committee on civics, said he quit in part because of its “outrageous disregard of Arab students and teachers.”

The ministry said the textbook had been updated to reflect changes in the civics curriculum introduced in 2011. It said this curriculum is meant to spur “in-depth, meaningful classroom discussion” of current affairs and encourage students to voice a range of opinions and understand the disagreements within Israeli society.

It also said the new book was written only after reviewing hundreds of comments from academic experts in political science and law who held a range of views.

Nevertheless, at the Education Committee meeting a few hours earlier, ministry representatives confirmed that no Arab was involved in writing the new book.

Moreover, as Haaretz reported this weekend, the ministry severed contact with Prof. Tamar Hermann of the Open University after she sent an 11-page letter criticizing the draft textbook about 18 months ago. Hermann said the revised edition represents “a provincial and ethnocentric worldview” that “should have no place among the textbooks of a democratic country.”

Prof. Asad Ghanem of Haifa University and other Arab academics said they received similar treatment from the ministry.

The ministry said that next year, high schools would be able to choose among three different textbooks, including the new one. Nevertheless, it added, the new book was the only one of the three available in Arabic.

In fact, though, even the new book hasn’t yet been translated into Arabic, nor has the “Guide to Fundamental Concepts” that the ministry published two months ago.

Agbaria said this failure is one reason why he resigned from the advisory committee. Another, as he wrote in his resignation letter, was the ministry’s “deliberate disregard of my many comments,” which made him feel it was “trying to use him as a fig leaf for an improper process that gave birth to a professionally, politically and ideologically distorted product.”

The ministry said the new edition still opens with a quote from the Declaration of Independence. That represents a change from an earlier draft, which opened with a quote from a prayer.