We’ll have to do some decoding to properly understand what Dalia Fenig, the acting chair of the Education Ministry’s pedagogic secretariat, was saying when she disqualified the novel “Borderlife,” the story of an Israeli and Palestinian who fall in love in New York, for use in advanced high school literature classes.
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“Intimate relations between Jews and non Jews,” she said, “and certainly the option of formalizing them through marriage and having a family – even if it doesn’t come to fruition in the story – is perceived by large segments of society as a threat to a separate identity.”
We have to give the vague terms here concrete definitions: “Intimate relations” = sex. “Non-Jews” = Arabs. “Large segments of society” = the public. “Separate identity” = race.
Now we can reread her words in their simpler form: Jews and Arabs are forbidden to have sex with one another; Jews and Arabs are forbidden to love one another; Jews and Arabs are forbidden to marry one another; Jews and Arabs are forbidden to have families with one another; Jews and Arabs are forbidden to live together.
Now we can reinterpret another of Fenig’s statements. “Adolescents don’t, in many cases, have the systemic vision that includes considerations of maintaining the identity of their people and the significance of assimilation.” In its simplified form, this reads: Seventeen and 18-year-olds don’t understand that Jewish and Arab blood can’t mix. Only after military service, when they have internalized the differences at the checkpoints and in the streets, can they be free to read the book.
We must also address this remark by Fenig: “Even in the state [secular] school system, many parents would strongly object to having their son/daughter study the novel and would view it as a violation of the bond of trust between parents and the school system.”
Put simply the sentence reads: Even many secular parents in Israel aren’t interested in their children having sex with Arabs or marrying them.
Perhaps we should also simplify such unwieldy titles as “acting chair of the Education Ministry’s pedagogic secretariat.” Let’s call her a simpler name: A senior Education Ministry official. You can even shorten that to just the Education Ministry. And then you connect the dots and see the picture: The Education Ministry opposes mixing Jewish blood with Arab blood.
We have to be fair and remember that Education Minister Naftali Bennett did not appoint Fenig to this position. She was there before him. It is the ideal situation; you don’t have to appoint your own people in order to implement an official, institutionalized race theory in Israel’s most important government ministry. The people who are already there understand the spirit of things, and are eager to translate it into action.
Let’s add another point to the picture – the new civics textbook that will be published shortly and is intended for all Israeli pupils. It opens with a quote from a prayer (instead of the original beginning, a quote from the Declaration of Independence,) stresses the state’s Jewish dimension (over its democratic one) and minimizes the rights of the Arab minority (those with whom it’s forbidden to have sex.)
What we don’t have to do is to recall that Raskolnikov murdered old women in “Crime and Punishment.” Nor should we refer to the immorality that permeates “Anna Karenina.” Focusing on Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy is liable to move the debate to the realm of the theoretical and blur the decidedly non-theoretical objective of disqualifying “Borderlife”: Protecting the purity of Jewish blood.