Israeli Authors, Politicians Blast Move to Ban Novel on Arab-Jewish Romance From Schools

Education Ministry disqualified novel describing love story between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man from use by high schools for 'threatening Jewish identity.'

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Arab high school students in Nazareth stayed at home Thursday. (illustrative). Credit: Yaron Kaminsky

Israeli writers and politicians roundly criticized the Education Ministry's decision to ban a novel that describes a love story between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man from use by high schools around the country. Israeli author Sami Michael said that the decision constitutes "a dark day for Hebrew literature," while author Haim Be'er called the move "a dizzying and dangerous act."

Among the reasons stated for the disqualification of Dorit Rabinyan’s “Gader Haya” (literally “Hedgerow,” but known in English as “Borderlife”) is the need to maintain what was referred to as “the identity and the heritage of students in every sector,” and the belief that “intimate relations between Jews and non-Jews threatens the separate identity.” The Education Ministry also expressed concern that “young people of adolescent age don’t have the systemic view that includes considerations involving maintaining the national-ethnic identity of the people and the significance of miscegenation.”

"This is none of [Education Minister] Naftali Bennett's business," Be'er said. "Tomorrow he will disqualify 'Behind the Fence' because Bialik's hero falls in love with a Christian and he'll create a committee to monitor relationships in literature. This is a dizzying and dangerous act that he's doing in order to find support in his crowd after he praised the Shin Bet and his stock went down, that's clear."

A.B. Yehoshua, another Israeli novelist, said "The book 'Borderlife' is a great, deep book written in rich and emotional language that has already earned a wide audience and critical acclaim. The book also tells the tragedy of relationships between Israelis and Palestinians.

"He who refuses to include it in the adult educational plan of literature students doesn't only show that he has no understanding of what true literature is, but also disqualifies dozens of books, stories, plays and movies in one stroke that try, each in his own way, to realistically address the complicated relationships between us and the minority that lives among us and under our occupation," continued Yehoshua. "In any case, I hope that the silver lining will be sweet and because of this dark disqualification, Rabinyan's book will get additional attention and draw in a wider audience of readers who will prove to the disqualifiers that their harmful and hasty act won't only not discourage literature lovers and the culture, but will encourage them to fight the disqualifiers."

Author Meir Shalev also joined the criticism, saying that "'Borderlife' is a good book and there's no point in waiting for the Education Ministry to develop good taste, especially not Naftali Bennett's Education Ministry. I also recommend that on this occasion Bennett take out of Bible studies curriculum King Saul and King David, who married foreigners, and Boaz from Bethlehem who married Ruth the Moabitess, the ancestors of King David, and there were other important figures in our history, let's say Sarah the matriarch had an episode with Pharoah. A person who begins a mitzvah is told to finish, and should clean up the curriculum. He should teach only of the good families of religious Zionism." Shalev recommended that all students read the book in their free time.

Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon also sharply criticized the move. "We'll protest tomorrow in front of the Education Ministry: That Bennett's commissars disqualified an excellent book recommended by the professional committee for literature studies because it tells the story of a romance between a Jew and an Arab that 'encourages miscegenation.'"

"The fact that the citizen registry has been corrupted beyond recognition and has become a religious-nationalist manifesto aiming to raise subjects here rather than citizens; the organized and planned attack on secular morals - freedom, pluralism, equality and love of humans because they are humans; and the cleansing of the education system from these morals," Galon continued. "We'll protest tomorrow, in the rain, for the future of our children, for our future. We have no more important war."

Mk Merav Michaeli, the whip of the Zionist Union, also responded to the disqualification of the book. "Hordes of Arabs are on their way to the polling stations, Arabs are taking our girls – these are two sides of the same coin. In a place where people are disqualified, it's clear that books that represent them as humans are also disqualified. In a place where people with views that are unacceptable to the government are marked, it's clear that works of literature and art are also censored. The thought police is already here."

MK Nahman Shai (Zionist Union) responded to the disqualification of the novel saying that, "The cultural censorship and silencing in Israel has crossed all lines. The democratic and open Israel is sinking, causing censorship to enter in the style of Big Brother who wants to decide for us who will know and who will think what."

MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) also addressed the issue with consternation, calling for an emergencing meeting of the Knesset Committee on Education to discuss the disqualification of the novel. "The cencorship has been here for a while; now it's becoming a racist cencorship who's goal apparently is to raise a racist and opaque generation that doesn't see Arabs as humans or who won't see them at all."

Author Yuval Shimoni said that "real authors, not only Am Oved authors, don’t work for Bennett and [Lehava leader Benzi] Gopstein, and nor in the service of the chosen people. Under them, the young children of Israel will continue to learn the prayer for road in road safety lessons, will continue to be sent at the age of 18 to fight those who curse the god of Israel, and mostly will learn to shut their mouths and thoughts for fear of the regime and its wild weeds. The eternal people, as is known, isn’t scared of murder either."

Literary works that also told the stories of Jews who marry outside the faith include Haim Bialik's "Behind the Fence," Bashevis Singer's "The Slave," Shmuel Yosef Agnon's "The Lady and the Peddler" and Sami Michael in "A Trumpet in the Wadi." All were and some still are taught in schools.

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