Education Ministry Brands Critic of New Israeli Civics Textbook as Leftist

Education Ministry fires back in fight over Israel's new civics textbook, saying editor who complained about content is a member of Breaking the Silence.

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Arab high school students in Nazareth stayed at home Thursday. (illustrative). Credit: Yaron Kaminsky
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The Education Ministry has fired back at one of the critics of a new civics textbook, saying his claims against the book are politically motivated. The ministry released screenshots of the textbook's language editor Yehuda Yaari's Facebook page in which he can be seen sharing posts by Breaking the Silence and Meretz.

Yaari sent a letter saying the new civics textbook "To be Citizens in Israel" includes some very problematic statements, including the false claim that most attacks during the current wave of terror were committed by Arab citizens of Israel.

Screen grab shared by Education Ministry of controversial textbook's language editor Yehuda Yaari's Facebook page in which he can be seen sharing a post by Meretz.Credit: Courtesy

His objections were detailed in a letter sent earlier this month to several officials, including Dr. Assaf Malach, head of the Education Ministry’s professional advisory committee on civics; Dr. Aviad Bakshi, the book’s academic adviser; and Yael Guron, the ministry’s civics supervisor. The letter was first reported by Channel 2 television, and Haaretz has obtained a copy.

Amos Shavit, the spokesman for the Education Ministry, claimed Yaari is a member of Breaking the Silence, and therefore sending the letter constitutes a political act.

In an interview Tuesday morning on Army Radio, Yaari said he had prepared for the possibility of "character assassination," and said "they cannot turn me into an enemy of the people. True, a few months or weeks ago I shared a post of Breaking the Silence, but that is not connected to the question of whether the sinking of the Altalena was political violence."

Among the claims made by Yaari in his letter was that that the book treats the 1948 Altalena incident, in which troops opened fire on an arms ship belonging to the pre-state Irgun militia, as equivalent to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin or the murder of Emil Grunzweig at a 1983 Peace Now demonstration. He also complained about the inclusion of a quote from former Attorney General and now Supreme Court Justice Menachem Mazuz, who said the popular claim that Rabin was murdered as a result of incitement “has never been proven.”

The Education Ministry said on Monday that that the quotes from Yaari's letter were “tendentious and selective, and absolutely don’t reflect the book’s spirit.” Moreover, it charged, the quotes cited by Yaari are not reliable, some are from an earlier draft of the book and do not appear in the final version at all.

"When the Ministry publishes the book in its complete form, it will put it at the public's disposal in order to allow a true and proper public discussion," said the Education Ministry.

As to the claims that most of the stabbing attacks in the latest wave of Palestinian violence were carried out by Arabs who are Israeli citizens, Yaari told Rino Tzror of Army Radio that the claim does appear in the final draft of the textbook he had received for review, though it might have been removed in wake of the outcry. He also said the book's claim regarding Israeli Arabs fails to pass even the book's definition of who is a citizen.

"It is possible that before [Education Minister Naftali Bennett] saw it today someone got some sense and removed it, because I made them aware that this was simply a factual mistake, beyond it being despicable, because it is known they have not been carried out by Israeli citizens; and residents of East Jerusalem who did do some of the terror attacks are not Israeli citizens but [permanent] residents, and to make such a mistake in a civics book is horrible," he said.

"It took me two weeks to stew over it," Yaaris told Tzror. "And then I reached the conclusion that I owe it to myself and owe it to my work to share with them the harsh feelings that have not left me since I sent the book, and of course also while working."

Yaari spoke of the comments he made to those responsible for the book, and said these are just some examples and there are other controversial issues. "I gave only examples in my letter, I didn't write everything, it is endless," he said. He protested against the large use religious sources in the book too.

"My mandate was only language, but while working I discovered many factual mistakes, which of course I could not leave and I wrote to the editors to take notice," said Yaari. "I wrote comments that were not related to my work, I did not coerce them and I did not put them into the body of the text. Because I received the text time after time for additional editing, I saw the situation remained serious even in the version that is going to be printed," he said.

Yaari said the book is in its final stages and he does not believe changes will be made in it. The textbook is now in its final layout stage and "I do not believe they can make large changes in it," he said.

Preparation of the new book began some five years ago, following the instructions of former Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who considered the existing textbook to be too critical of Israel. The work on the book has accelerated in recent months.

The ministry said the textbook had been updated to reflect changes in the civics curriculum introduced in 2011. It said this curriculum is meant to spur “in-depth, meaningful classroom discussion” of current affairs and encourage students to voice a range of opinions and understand the disagreements within Israeli society."



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