Mendelblit Approves Removal of Satirical Clips From Bible Studies Curriculum

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Some of the characters of satirical Israeli comedy "the Jews are Coming"
Some of the characters of satirical Israeli comedy "the Jews are Coming"Credit: Rafi Daluya

The attorney general’s office has approved Education Minister Yoav Gallant’s intervention in the Bible studies teaching curriculum and his removal of clips from the satirical show “The Jews are Coming” from it.

The skits were removed last year from the Education Ministry website for Bible teachers after pressure from right-wing activist Shai Glick, a member of the Likud Central Committee and a Shas lawmaker. After Gallant’s decision, a number of teachers wrote to Gallant declaring that they will continue using the skits in class.

In a letter sent by Justice Ministry attorney Ori Shlomai to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, he wrote that although Education Ministry decisions regarding content are made by the ministry’s pedagogical secretariat, the minister’s decision regarding the removal of the clips is in order.

Shlomai explains in the letter that ACRI’s opinion that the education minister is not permitted to interfere with the content taught in schools, Gallant’s decision does not contradict the letter of the law.

The letter also notes that despite the removal of the skits from the website, there is nothing to prevent teachers in the state school system from using them: “The Education Ministry stressed that the purpose of posting the clips was to provide teachers with a tool to help them teach the Bible in the state system. The minister did not rule that the skits are unacceptable, but that they should be removed from the teaching website.” The website provides teachers with other tools for teaching the subject “but this is not a closed list that obligates the teachers to use only them,” the letter added.

ACRI claimed that it is illegal to reject Education Ministry teaching material due to the political opinions of its creators. “The Jews Are Coming” is broadcast by Kan Public Broadcasting Corporation. Shlomai replied that Gallant’s decision “did not stem from the rejection of any particular artist ... but was due to the fear of offending segments of the Israeli public.”

Dan Yakir, ACRI’s legal adviser, replied that “Very disappointingly, the Justice Ministry adopted the education minister’s opinion. This is dangerous both to freedom of expression and the right to pluralistic education, and provides an opening to political intervention in the curriculum and the rejection of works that do not accord with the minister’s views. The Justice Ministry agreed with the opinion that episodes in the series should be removed even they do not contain offensive content, because part of the public has a negative opinion of the nature of the series as a whole. This contradicts the High Court of Justice ruling that works should be rejected only if they are extremely offensive, which is not the case here.”

The Justice Ministry’s support for Gallant can be compared to the 1997 High Court ruling about the educational series “Open Cards,” when former Education Minister Zevulun Hammer wanted to prevent its airing on Educational Television (which was connected to the Education Ministry) due to a discussion of gays and lesbians. ACRI and the Aguda Association for LGBTQ Equality petitioned the High Court at the time.

In a unanimous decision, the justices ruled that the program would be aired despite the minister’s opposition. Among their explanations, “‘Education’ in this context is broad and suits the times; and in effect the meaning of the concept has been expanded by the fact that it also includes teaching knowledge, broadening horizons, and education for its own sake.”

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