In Act of Defiance, Arab Educator Quits Israeli Education Ministry’s Civics Board

The ministry says it’s still trying to keep Yousef Shehadeh on board, though a source says right wing education minister will remain ‘guided by democratic and Zionist values’

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Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaking in January 2017.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaking in January 2017.Credit: Moti Milrod

One of the two Arab members of the Education Ministry’s advisory committee on civics has tendered his resignation, saying the country’s Arab community was being shortchanged in the panel’s deliberations.

In a letter to the ministry’s civics supervisor, Yousef Shehadeh asked that he be dropped from the committee. He said some of his colleagues on the panel “distort the facts, something I am unwilling to be a partner to in presenting to students.”

Shehadeh wrote that he could not “be part of a group that dictates inaccurate concepts, since this counters any conception of citizenship in a democratic state.” He said he felt there was little chance his proposals would be addressed in future meetings, “thus my presence there is redundant.”

For its part, the Education Ministry said it was still holding talks with Shehadeh and he had not yet left the committee. Shehadeh, from the University of Haifa, did not respond to requests by Haaretz for further comment.

A source close to Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday that “we’re not crying over this resignation.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaking in January 2017.Credit: Moti Milrod

“The minister will continue to lead the ministry guided by democratic and Zionist values, and anyone willing to work under these precepts can find a place in the education of Israel’s children,” the source said.

In his letter, Shehadeh referred mainly to discussions of a controversial booklet on citizenship that was criticized by the High Court of Justice last year. According to the justices, the Education Ministry should have consulted with a professional committee on these concepts. They wondered why there was a need for such a booklet, and Justice Salim Joubran objected to the way Arabs were treated in the discussions, particularly Christian Arabs.

“Who said that this subject should be taught through a booklet with students reciting concepts instead of holding discussions?” Justice Zvi Zylbertal asked. “Is there a similar concept booklet in other subjects?”

A subcommittee was then set up to further discuss the booklet; seven of the 15 members of the broader committee joined, including Shehadeh.

In his letter, Shehadeh criticized the way Arabs were referred to in deliberations on the booklet. Arabic is referred to as a language having “special status,” despite its status as an official language in Israel. “There are inventions of things that don’t exist in original documents,” he added.

Shehadeh said he sought to stress commonalities, but the discussions highlighted differences. “I saw my mission as contributing to healing the rifts in Israeli society, but I found myself in a complicated situation, not wishing to deepen already-deep fissures,” he wrote.

At last year’s High Court debate, Justice Yoram Danziger noted that seven out of nine members discussing the booklet had objected to it, with three resigning. He also noted the low representation of Arabs or Druze on the committee.

Several weeks ago Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assailed Bennett for giving tenure to Yael Guron, the ministry’s civics supervisor. He called Guron an “extreme leftist.”

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