Ministry Amends Israeli Civics Textbook Over Negative Description of Centrist Party

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Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, June 2016.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, June 2016. Credit: Dudu Bachar

The Education Ministry informed high school teachers and principals this week that it will be correcting the new civics textbook “Being a Citizen.” This follows a complaint by the centrist Yesh Atid party about its portrayal in the book.

The ministry said the correction related to Chapter 27 of the textbook, without providing details. But a knowledgeable source said it follows a complaint by Yesh Atid, which claimed that the section dealing with political parties and interest groups constitutes incitement against it.

The section in question states that several parties at the center of the political spectrum that might be labeled “miflagot avira” (referring to parties that arise and reflect a particular moment in time) have appeared and disappeared.

“These parties have won a relatively large number of [Knesset] seats, without a defined identity, and benefited from the reduction in power of the large parties and the phenomenon of the shifting [in party support] of voters,” the text says. “For example, in the 19th Knesset, the Yesh Atid party appeared and won 19 seats. But in the 20th Knesset, it had lost about 40 percent of its strength to a new centrist party, Kulanu.”

Kulanu, which is a member of the current coalition, is headed by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. Yesh Atid, which is now part of the opposition, is headed by former Finance Minister Yair Lapid.

The Education Ministry letter sent to principals and teachers states: “There was an error in the wording of a paragraph in Chapter 27 dealing with parties and interest groups. The Education Ministry is working to correct the error. Bookstores are currently being provided with the textbook along with a replacement page with the required correction.”

The offending paragraph is simply deleted in the corrected version.

A ministry source explained that the paragraph did not reflect ministry policy and “the spirit of the law, which provides that political education is important and also desirable, but that perspectives and positions regarding specific parties should not be discussed.”

Some 40,000 copies of “Being a Citizen” with the old text have already been printed and distributed to bookstores. Copies have also been purchased by schools. The correction will also be made to the online version of the book.

The Yesh Atid correction is the latest in a long line of controversies over the civics textbook. Individuals in the Arab community have complained about the manner in which Israel’s Arab minority is portrayed. And gay and lesbian organizations sent a letter to Education Minister Naftali Bennett objecting to how the LGBT community is presented.

“We have been astounded to discover that the [present] version of ‘Being a Citizen’ does not include any mention of the LGBT community — a community that, according to accepted estimates, comprises about 10 percent of the country’s citizens and whose struggle over many years for equal rights, like the struggle for gender equality, is not mentioned in it even once,” the letter to Bennett said.

LGBT groups have also protested the fact that the murder of teenager Shira Banki at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade in 2015 was mentioned as a religious act, along with throwing stones at violators of Shabbat, rather than as a hate crime against members of a particular group.

Following the Yesh Atid amendment, one teacher told Haaretz: “If only the Education Ministry responded with such readiness to every complaint about the book there is at the moment from various segments of society.”

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