Principals, Teachers Decry Banning of Arab-Jewish Love Story From Schools

Fear is overtaking reason, teachers association says, after Education Ministry rejects novel about relationship between Israeli woman and Palestinian man.

Dorit Rabinyan, author of the novel "Borderlife," and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who banned it from Israeli public schools. .
Ilya Melnikov, Moti Milrod

High school principals and teachers expressed outrage Thursday at the Education Ministry’s decision to disqualify Dorit Rabinyan’s “Borderlife” novel from being studied in literature classes. Opposition Knesset members also condemned the decision.

The 2014 novel, which chronicles a love story between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man, was disqualified out of fear that it might encourage assimilation, even though the official responsible for literary instruction in secular state schools recommended the book’s use – a decision backed by a professional panel of academics and educators.

Dalia Fenig, acting chair of the Education Ministry’s pedagogical secretariat, wrote that the book was disqualified because it engaged in “intimate relations” that “threatens the separate identity” of Jews and non-Jews.

“We see this step as damaging freedom of debate and pluralism, as well as an attack on the authority of the literary supervisor and professional committee for examining teaching content,” the High School Principals’ Association and the action committee of high school teachers said in a joint statement, adding, “We warn against fear overtaking reason, and demand that the Education Ministry retract its decision.”

The two organizations operate independently of the high school teachers union. More than 5,000 teachers are in the action committee nationwide. The principals’ association includes dozens of high school principals.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog also addressed the controversy during a visit to a military prep academy in Sderot, where he distributed copies of Rabinyan’s book to some students.

“I asked them, ‘Tell me, are the People of the Book afraid of books? Are the People of the Book afraid of stories?’” he wrote on his Facebook page. “This is a dark worldview that does not believe in the judgment ability of the public, or a younger generation that is much more involved than previous generations.” Herzog also called on Education Ministry Naftali Bennett to rescind the decision.

Yesh Atid chairman Ofer Shelah said, “The Education Ministry’s argument for rejecting the book is much more outrageous than the decision itself. Out of the complex formulations arises a stench of an aloof worldview that borders on racism – the kind that has been turned in the past and present specifically against Jews.”

According to Shelah, Bennett erred in backing his ministry’s officials, and said he should make it clear to them that they “have no idea about culture or education.” Yesh Atid MK Karin Elharrar added that rejecting the book “reeks of racism and xenophobia.”

“Disqualification is not a way to do things – certainly not in our age when information is accessible to all,” said MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid). “As for assimilation, it is precisely the heartrending words of Tevye the Milkman about his daughter when she married a non-Jew, that perhaps there is an answer to the trouble of our generation.”

Meretz announced that it would demonstrate in front of the Education Ministry in Tel Aviv on Thursday afternoon against the book’s disqualification. “A civics textbook was indiscriminately destroyed and turned into a religious-Zionist manifesto with the goal of raising subjects rather than citizens,” said Meretz chairwoman MK Zehava Galon. “This is an organized attack against secular values – freedom, pluralism, equality and love of people, no matter who they are. What’s taking place is a purging of these values from the education system.”

Coalition MKs and Yisrael Beiteinu refused to comment on the disqualification.