Popular National Reading Project Stalled Over Legal Dispute

Yarden Skop
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Illustration: Children reading.
Illustration: Children reading.Credit: Alon Ron
Yarden Skop

A legal dispute between the Education Ministry and the Steimatzky bookstore chain prevented a popular and successful reading encouragement program from operating in Israeli schools this year.

Founded in 1994, the Book Parade Project kicks off near the start of the school year, when a panel of experts chooses its recommended books for the year from kindergarten through 12th grade, by age. Participating schools — around 1,500 signed up this year — pay about one-fourth of list price for the books they order, thanks to a subsidy from the Education Ministry. Most of the schools taking part in the program offer additional activities to encourage reading. This year the ministry set aside some 2 million shekels (around $500,000) for the project.

The tender for the project this year was awarded to the Israeli Center for Libraries, a nonprofit organization. But Steimatzky, which like the ICL has operated the Book Parade in previous years, claimed that its bid was lower than the ICL’s. The bookstore chain filed an administrative appeal and a request for a temporary restraining order so that the tender could be reevaluated.

The court granted Steimatzky’s request, and last week the ministry informed the company that after reexamining the tender process it had decided to stay with ICL.

Steimatzky plans to appeal the decision, further delaying the start of the reading program for the year. With Passover vacation just a month away and summer vacation not too long after that, it seems the Book Parade will not be launched at all this year.

“With every passing day the Book Parade loses its point, since the books have to get to the schools in order for the children to have time to read and learn about them,” says Alex Paz Goldman, an author whose (Hebrew) book “Amit, Dalit, Shavit and the Ripped Flyers Mystery” was chosen for the project. “The problem is that the children aren’t getting the books and the entire project is nonexistent. The idea is to encourage reading — the Book Parade enriches the libraries, the children choose the books and write reports on them,” he said. “The Education Ministry’s conduct disrespects the participants,” Paz Goldman said.

“Many of the books wouldn’t be read by children were it not for the Book Parade,” said an author who asked to remain anonymous. “The parade often exposes them to better literature. Instead of the books reaching the schools around December, it’s already the middle of March and the books have not arrived. There are hardly any activities to encourage reading in the educational system, and the parade was among the few that exposed children to books for reading,” she said.

In a statement, Steimatzky’s legal counsel Shahar Weller said the ministry “rejected Steimatzky’s bid without any justification, forcing Steimatzky to file an appeal. The court criticized the ministry harshly, as a result of which it was forced to... reexamine Steimatzky’s bid. Since the court issued its ruling around two months ago the ministry has made no decision, since it doesn’t want Steimatzky to win the tender despite its bid being lower.”

ICL head Tzvika Meir told Haaretz that he would like to continue to operate the reading program, saying, “We did it for 20 years.” He added, however, “We are not a party in the matter; we submitted a bid in accordance with the law and we won. Now we are waiting for a decision.”

The Education Ministry said in a statement that it is “acting on the legal front to enable the implementation of the project soon, as every year.”