Knesset Panel to Discuss Controversial New Civics Textbook

MK Stav Shaffir expresses concern about book’s alleged treatment of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Israeli-Arab citizens.

MK Stav Shaffir in her Knesset office, December 2015.
Olivier Fitoussi

A Knesset panel will meet next week to discuss a controversial new edition of the civics textbook for Israel’s schools.

MK Stav Shaffir (Zionist Union), who chairs the Special Committee for the Transparency and Accessibility of Government Information, criticized Education Minister Naftali Bennett for his ministry’s actions and asked him to give the panel a copy of the book before the meeting.

“If Bennett intends to turn the civics textbook into a guide for students on how to become voters for [his] Habayit Hayehudi party, the public deserves to know this before the book is handed out to students,” Shaffir said on Tuesday.

In a letter sent recently to Education Ministry officials, the textbook’s language editor, Yehuda Yaari, alleged that the new edition contains numerous problematic statements. These include the patently false claim that most of the attacks in the current wave of terror were committed by Arab citizens of Israel; a quote from former Attorney General Menachem Mazuz saying there was no proof that the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin resulted from incitement; and a section on politically motivated violence that treats Rabin’s murder as equivalent to the 1948 Altalena incident, in which Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion ordered troops to open fire on an arms ship belonging to the Irgun militia.

Commenting on the book’s treatment of Rabin, Shaffir noted, “If Bennett intends to blur the circumstances of Rabin’s murder to cleanse the community he represents of responsibility for incitement, the teachers who will be entrusted with teaching this distorted material deserve to know this.

“And if Bennett intends to sacrifice every smidgen of statesmanship by causing additional, untrue, harm to Israel’s Arab community, the parents of every student in Israel deserve to know this,” she continued. “The public has a right to know now, not when it’s too late.”

Shaffir also asked Bennett for a copy of the draft proposal on revising an Education Ministry program that subsidizes school trips to artistic productions. As Haaretz reported, the proposal calls for drawing up a list of productions that students could not be taken to see with state subsidies in the so-called “culture basket.”

She also requested details on the ministry’s budgetary support for pluralistic Jewish organizations that run programs in schools. This was in response to another Haaretz report, which said the ministry had frozen its support for these groups.