Jerusalem Kindergartners Urged to Pay Tribute to Israeli Security Forces

Teachers say Israel's Education Ministry is pressuring them to register for an event and to drill the children to recite a greeting.

Israel Police Chief Roni Alsheikh in Rahat, January 17, 2017.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The city and the Education Ministry are planning an event in March in which Jerusalem kindergartners will express their gratitude to the military, law enforcement agencies and rescue services.

The municipality said the event is intended for kindergartens that draw from the “general population” of the city, but an official said Palestinian children from East Jerusalem could hardly be expected to express gratitude to the security forces, which harass them day and night.

The ceremony is part of “Good Deeds Day” advanced by businesswoman Shari Arison by means of the NGO Ruach Tova (Hebrew: “Good Spirit”). Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and police commissioner Roni Alsheich are expected to attend.

The municipality and Education Ministry have been pressuring kindergarten teachers to take part in the event as well.

One kindergarten teacher said the ceremony has “no educational aspect of expressing gratitude or good deeds. Its main significance is to bring kindergarten children to an adult show.”

Teachers of preschoolers have recently received notifications, entitled “Kindergarten children embrace the security forces,” asking them to register their classes to the event.

The invitation, signed by Jewish Education Ministry inspectors and the municipal official in charge of preschool education, says the event is to mark the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s unification and in it “kindergarten children wish to express their gratitude to the rescue and security forces occupied with defending the security of the state and especially of the city.”

The ceremony will include a “parade of security forces” such as the police, the dog trainers’ unit, the cavalry and Border Police, as well as representatives of rescue teams such as Magen David Adom and the firefighters.

The kindergarten teachers were asked to teach the children songs about Jerusalem and to recite by heart words of thanks for the various forces.

The notification instructs kindergarten teachers to give the children lessons “emphasizing the activity of the security and rescue forces and the importance of being grateful for their work.”

Some two weeks ago Haaretz reported that the Education Ministry had instructed Jerusalem kindergarten teachers to make sure every kindergarten had a “national corner” and recommended turning it into a “significant activity center.”

The notification said that the teachers must report “which kindergartens have a flag and portrait of the president and which don’t. As for kindergartens that didn’t have a flag and president’s portrait – the teachers were to report whether they had received a letter demanding those things and if they did, whether they had “fixed the situation” and put up a flag and the president’s portrait or not, and if they didn’t “why, and what has been done to carry out the demand.”

Some kindergarten teachers said the way to develop respect for the state and its symbols wasn’t by means of coercion and orders from above. “There’s an uncomfortable feeling about forcing five-year-old kids to say thank you to policemen. The ceremony has no bearing on the children’s world. They are merely used a prop in someone else’s show,” one of them said.

An official familiar with the city's preschools said “education for empathy and sensitivity can and should begin in kindergarten, for example with the question what good deeds can each child do – for a friend or in his immediate surrounding.”

“But the ceremony and the activity around it don’t address any of that. It’s all done over the child’s head without involving him in the process. That’s anti-education, regardless of one’s political position,” he said.

Asked why only Jewish inspectors were signed on the invitation, the municipality said the “event is intended for kindergartens from the general sector. Anyone who wants to take part is cordially invited.

"Due to the issue’s sensitivity, certain kindergartens from the eastern part of the city chose not to attend and it’s perfectly understandable.”

One official said “if it’s indeed a municipal gathering that doesn’t distinguish between Jews and Arabs, why didn’t they choose a subject that could unite all the city’s children?

"Do the city and Education Ministry really expect Palestinian kindergarten children, who are harassed day and night by the security forces, to say thank you to the Border Police after signing songs of praise for Jerusalem?”