Israeli Arab School Rejects Government’s Effort to Get Kids to Promote Its Line

The Masar Institute for Education in Nazareth has denounced a required online course for delegations abroad; questions include 'What is demonization?'

Former Education Minister Naftali Bennett and his successor Rafi Peretz, June 26, 2019.
Yossi Ifergan / GPO

A school in the Arab town of Nazareth is resisting an Education Ministry order that requires students who participate in delegations abroad to take an online course in hasbara, basically the government’s political outlook.

“After they sat with the kids and they saw the questions and the answers they had to give to get approval, the parents decided it couldn’t continue,” said Ibrahim Abu Alhija, the director of the nonprofit group that runs the school, the Masar Institute for Education.

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Instead of staying silent or cooperating, the parents, working with Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, are fighting to cancel the required course, which was introduced when Naftali Bennett was education minister.

In 2017, Bennett decided that every student who wants to be part of a delegation abroad must take this online course, which is made up of several short videos. To progress among the course’s “study units,” students must check the “correct” answers to multiple-choice questions.

Education Ministry spokesman Amos Shavit declined to comment for this article.

A failing grade or refusal to answer disqualifies the student. The test is given to both Jewish and Arab students in grades 9 to 12 applying to be part of any foreign delegation except those to Poland. The following are two questions where the correct answer is “all of the above.”

“What are the challenges facing Israel?” a) The Iranian threat; b) Delegitimization; c) Terror groups to the west, east, north and south.”

“What are the sources of modern anti-Semitism? The possible answers include fascist and neo-Nazi parties, as well as Muslim organizations, the BDS movement and the internet.

The following are four questions and the answer in parentheses.

“How do Palestinian organizations use social media?” (“To encourage violence.”)

“What is delegitimization?” (“Denying Israel’s right to exist.”)

“What is demonization?” (“Comparing Israel to the Nazis or a cruel enemy.”)

“Against whom is anti-Semitism directed around the world?” (“Only against Israel.”)

Not all the questions are political; many guide the students to stress things like the country’s scientific achievements, innovation, women’s rights and LGBT rights.

The Masar Institute was launched as a primary school 20 years ago by a group of parents and social activists, and now goes through 12th grade. Over the past decade delegations of 10th graders have regularly gone abroad, first to Germany and later to an anthroposophic school in Sweden. The Education Ministry does not provide funding for these trips.

George Rashad, the son of Naila Awad Rashad, the head of the group Women Against Violence, had to take the test in order to join the next delegation.

“Very quickly he said he didn’t agree with some of the ‘correct’ answers like the Palestinian use of social media, not to mention the requirement to represent the state and the inability to relate to Jerusalem from the Palestinian perspective,” Awad Rashad said. “I think these are humiliating questions.”

The first year the online course was given, the Masar Institute did not delve much into the content, partly because of a short lead time and other technical reasons. But this year the criticism intensified among parents and the nonprofit group that operates the school.

“It turned out that the test contradicts our political and educational worldview. The question arose about our role as educators and parents; we decided that it was our duty as a social organization to attack an anti-educational act,” Abu Alhija said.

“The problem with the course is not just that it’s propaganda. We try encourage thinking, creativity, and dialogue, and then the Education Ministry comes and dictates slogans as correct answers. This crosses red lines. The Education Ministry’s message is that the children have to lie so that they can travel abroad.”

As a result, during the school year that just ended, there was no student delegation to Sweden.

Two weeks ago, Adalah, on behalf of the Masar nonprofit group, asked the Education Ministry to no longer require the course.

According to attorney Nareman Shehadeh Zoabi, the course is “a tendentious political procedure that serves a far-right political position,” while some of the videos “contain inaccurate information, while others present disputed issues as facts.”

She added: “The Education Ministry is trying to turn students into hasbara agents while imposing political opinions. This is radically contrary to the ministry’s educational purpose.”

In the two years since the course was launched, some Jewish parents have criticized it, but apparently they preferred not to escalate the issue so as not to jeopardize their children’s participation in delegations abroad.

“Our children don’t have to whitewash a reality of oppression, racism and discrimination,” Awad Rashad said.