Herzog Blasts Education Ministry for Banning Arab-Jewish Love Story From Schools

Opposition leader on Naftali Bennett's decision to drop Rabinyan’s 'Borderlife' novel from high school curriculum: Another brick in the Netanyahu government's exclusionary wall.

Isaac Herzog (holding book) with high-school students in Sderot, December 31, 2015.
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Opposition leader Isaac Herzog protested the banning of a novel that describes an Arab-Jewish love story from Israeli schools by presenting it as a gift to pupils during a visit to a high school in Sderot on Thursday.

In a move that prompted anger from Israeli authors, the Education Ministry banned Dorit Rabinyan’s “Gader Haya” (literally “Hedgerow,” but known in English as “Borderlife”) from the school curriculum this week, on the grounds that it threatens “the identity and heritage of students in every sector,” as well as the “separate identity” of Jews and non-Jews.

MK Herzog (Zionist Union) posted on Facebook that he had bought several copies of Rabinyan’s “wonderful” book on Thursday morning.

“I feel this is precisely the kind of book that needs to be given to these pre-army students in Sderot,” he wrote. “I asked them, ‘Tell me, are the People of the Book afraid of books? Are the People of the Book afraid of stories? Or would it be more accurate to say that their education minister is afraid of books and stories?’ This is a dark worldview that does not believe in the judgment ability of the public, or a younger generation that is much more involved than previous generations.”

Herzog also wrote that “the aggressive and unnecessary act of disqualifying a book based on a mistaken and narrow understanding of its content is another brick ... in the wall of intimidation, exclusion and inflexibility of the Netanyahu government.”

David Bachar

The book, published about 18 months ago, tells the story of an Israeli translator and Palestinian artist who meet and fall in love in New York, until she returns to Tel Aviv and he to the West Bank city of Ramallah. The book was among this year’s winners of the Bernstein Prize for young writers.

Also Thursday, television journalist Ilana Dayan challenged Education Minister Naftali Bennett to discuss his decision on air. “Let’s talk about it, Naftali, I know you love intellectual challenges,” said Dayan, following Bennett’s refusal to give interviews about the disqualification. “Let’s talk about the backing you gave to a decision that was made in your Education Ministry to disqualify Dorit Rabinyan’s wonderful book, which describes a romance between a young Jewish girl and a young Muslim boy, out of fear that it will encourage assimilation.

“Let’s talk about it, Naftali,” she continued. “You are better than the Bolshevism that grows within your office. I’ll tell you that [the story of] King David is liable to encourage betrayal and adultery, and you’ll explain to me that it is worth reading about this stormy yet brave king who built Jerusalem.

“I’ll ask you about Ahab and Omri and Nimrod – such controversial biblical heroes. And you, I am sure, will have a more sophisticated answer than the ministry executive who decided to disqualify [Rabinyan’s] book because ‘adolescents don’t have the systemic view’ to handle it.

“Let’s talk about it, Naftali – about Bialik’s hero who falls in love with a Christian; about Tchernichovsky’s problematic spousal ghost; about Yehuda Amichai’s horrors of war. They are all on your recommended list, and where will adolescent boys and girls acquire the proper tools for coping with them?”