Attorney General to Probe Exclusion of Book About Jewish-Arab Romance From School Curriculum

Yehuda Weinstein prompted to act following complaint by Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which accused the Education Ministry of having 'irrelevant and anti-educational motives.'

Sharon Pulwer
Sharon Pulwer
Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan poses with her Hebrew-language novel titled 'Gader Haya' (known in English as 'Borderlife') on December 31, 2015 at her home in Tel Aviv.
Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan poses with her Hebrew-language novel titled 'Gader Haya' (known in English as 'Borderlife') on December 31, 2015 at her home in Tel Aviv. Credit: AFP
Sharon Pulwer
Sharon Pulwer

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein plans to investigate the Education Ministry’s decision to exclude Dorit Rabinyan’s novel “Borderlife” from the high-school literature curriculum.

Weinstein’s decision was made in response to a letter by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

The ministry’s professional advisory committee had recommended that “Borderlife” (“Gader Haya” in Hebrew) be included in the literature curriculum as an optional work, and the ministry official in charge of the curriculum accepted this recommendation. But Dalia Fenig, head of the ministry’s pedagogical secretariat, overruled the decision, mainly because the novel’s plot revolves around a romance between an Israeli-Jewish woman and a Palestinian man.

ACRI’s letter, which was sent to both Fenig and Weinstein, urged the ministry to reconsider its decision, saying it stemmed from “irrelevant and anti-educational motives."

“The decision contradicts the goals of state education, imposes political censorship on literature and art ... and demonstrates contempt for the ability of teachers and students to discuss complex and controversial issues,” wrote ACRI attorney Tal Hassin.

Moreover, she claimed, it violated the State Education Law, which says “the role of education is to develop the character, creativity and talents of those who enter the gates of educational institutes, to expand their cultural horizons and expose them to artistic experiences,” to help them realize their full potential as human beings, endow them with knowledge in various walks of life, give them “the basic skills they will need for life as adults in a free society,” strengthen their critical faculties and “nurture intellectual curiosity and independent thought.”

ACRI’s letter also cited a 1997 High Court of Justice ruling that overturned a similar Education Ministry decision. In that case, ministry professionals had recommended that Educational Television air a series about sexual identity that included interviews with gay teens, but senior ministry officials overruled the professionals’ recommendation. The court said the ministry’s decision undermined freedom of artistic expression by sending the message that if artists want their work to be studied in the Israeli education system, they must avoid controversial topics.

Fenig decided to exclude “Borderlife” from the curriculum mainly because it was about a Jewish-Arab love story. This was problematic, Fenig wrote, because many teens lack “a systematic worldview that includes considerations of preserving the nation’s identity and the significance of assimilation.” Moreover, she said, many parents, even secular ones, would vehemently object to their children studying such a book in school.

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