New Israeli Civics Textbook: Israeli Arabs Behind Most Attacks in Current Terror Wave

Language editor says book represents religious hijacking of subject, contains falsehoods and ignores controversy over settlements.

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

The new civics textbook includes some very problematic statements, including the patently false claim that most attacks during the current wave of terror were committed by Arab citizens of Israel, according to the book’s language editor.

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.

The letter termed the new textbook “an attempted ‘hostile takeover’ of the civics curriculum by trying to ‘religionize’ a subject that’s universal and liberal.” For instance, it said, the section on human rights includes 20 quotes from religious sources, including quotes from Maimonides on the rights to life, liberty and equality, while the previous edition quoted far fewer religious sources. “Is this a class on civics or the Talmud?” it demanded.

Yael Guron, right, the Education Ministry’s civics supervisor, at a Knesset meeting about the ministry's civics textbook.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The editor also complained that a section on “religious identity in Israeli Jewish society” devoted 500 words to explaining the ultra-Orthodox community and only 200 to explaining the secular community. Moreover, secularism is presented solely as a “denial of binding religious faith” rather than a positive set of beliefs in its own right.

With regard to religious Zionism, the letter said, the textbook presents the disproportionate number of West Bank settlements affiliated with this community as a “concrete expression of its deep connection” to “the Land of Israel, the State of Israel and Zionism,” without a word about the controversy over the legitimacy of West Bank settlements.

In a section on ideologically- and politically-motivated violence, the letter complains that the book treats the 1948 Altalena incident, in which troops opened fire on an arms ship belonging to the Irgun militia, as equivalent to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin or the murder of Emil Grunzweig at a 1983 Peace Now demonstration.

“This section isn’t merely morally and factually scandalous; it’s a gross error in terms of civics instruction, because it equates despicable criminals, who committed their murderous deeds in violation of the law, with the decision of an elected prime and defense minister, who ordered the Israel Defense Forces to take action against an underground that refused to disarm,” it said.

Moreover, it continued, a section on the current wave of stabbing attacks says most of the attacks “were committed by Arab citizens of Israel,” when in fact, most were committed by Palestinians residents of the territories or East Jerusalem, who aren’t Israeli citizens.

Finally, the editor complained about the inclusion of a quote from former Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who said the popular claim that Rabin was murdered as a result of incitement “has never been proven.”

The Education Ministry said the letter’s quotations were “tendentious and selective, and absolutely don’t reflect the book’s spirit.” Moreover, it charged, some are from an earlier draft of the book and don’t appear in the final version at all.

That claim, however, sounds dubious, because the letter was written only three weeks ago.

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