Education Ministry’s Expert Panels Protest New Culture Program for Schools

Repertoire committees issue statement, vow to consider taking action after school year ends.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett at a press conference, Feb. 18, 2016.
Moti Millrod

Members of the committees that advise the Education Ministry on which cultural works and performances will be approved for Israeli high schools issued a joint statement on Sunday objecting to the ministry’s proposed reform of cultural programming in schools.

At a press conference on Thursday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett said the new program will have a bigger budget and reach a broader audience than the current one. A special committee will be established for the purpose of excluding from the National Cultural Basket — a partnership among the Education Ministry, local governments and the Israel Association of Community Centers — works that the ministry deems to contain “pornographic content, encouragement of violence, a racist component, advocating terror or harm to the foundations of the State of Israel.”

Under the proposed reform, the powers of the repertoire committees advising the ministry would be diminished significantly.

“We welcome the additional funding and the expansion of the program to 70 more communities,” the heads of the repertoire committees wrote. “However, the plan has components that are unacceptable to us — the establishment of a committee that would rule out works on the basis of [their] content, and the balance between the two tracks.”

The reform would make two lists of activities available to schools, one offered by the repertory committees and another that will not be vetted by the experts. Principals will be asked to select 30 percent of their schools’ activities from the experts’ list and 70 percent from the open list.

In their statement, committee heads did not announce any concrete measures they planned to take, writing: “In the months that remain before the program is implemented in the next school year, and so as not to hurt the students or the productions, we will continue our dialogue with the Education Ministry to bring about changes to the proposed program.”

The committee heads said they would appeal this week to the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee and that they would decide on what steps to take at the end of this school year, “including possible resignation of the committees and their heads.”

The committee heads noted in their statement that the members of the repertoire committees are volunteers who represent “a wide variety of opinions and ideas, but above all it is important to know that they are selected based on their experience and expertise.”

The statement was signed by music committee chairman Oded Zehavi, plastic arts committee chairman Philip Rantzer, theater committee chairwoman Zahava Caspi, literature committee chairwoman Rachel Albeck-Gidron, cinema committee chairwoman Anat Shperling and dance committee chairwoman Rina Badash.

Ratzner told Haaretz he was “disappointed and surprised” at the unilateral nature of the decision on the new program and the way it had bypassed the experts. He said the committee heads had been “summoned” to a meeting and given “selective information” compared to what was conveyed to the media about the program. “Personally speaking, the very fact that a track is opened that bypasses the expert committees, no matter what the percentages, will obviate my professional contribution to the culture basket and therefore I will have to resign,” he told Haaretz.

Ratzner said the committee head had “made every effort toward dialogue and to influence the content of the program in a pleasant meeting with the minister and in committee meetings at the Knesset. Unfortunately, Thursday’s statement cooled the hope we had pinned on those meetings.”

Caspi told Haaretz that before the committee heads met with Bennett, all of the activities offered to principals in the new program were to be on the “open” list, that is without the approval of the repertoire committees, but after hearing their arguments he agreed that 30 percent of the activities would have to meet the panels’ approval.

“We also do not approve pornography or racist works, and this is not about that. This about ideological content, and this we do not want to accept,” Caspi said.