Israel's New Civics Text Highlights God's Role in State's Creation, Dismissive of Arabs

A 500-page book unveiled by Education Ministry sees Israel's existence as the fulfillment of 'God's promise,' seems to minimize role of Arabic as an official language, and makes little reference to Rabin assassination.

Yarden Skop
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Education Minister Naftali Bennett at a Petah Tikva school.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett at a Petah Tikva school. Credit: Sasson Tiram
Yarden Skop

The Education Ministry unveiled a new high school civics textbook on Monday that closely ties Israeli statehood to Jewish teachings and contains little more than a few dismissive references to Arab culture.

Publication of the 500-page book called "Being a Citizen in Israel," follows five years of controversy over what the text should cover.

Israel civics textbook: "Being a Citizen in Israel"
Israel civics textbook: "Being a Citizen in Israel"Credit: Education Ministry

The book, intended for use in Israel's secular or non-religious school system, opens by citing Israel's Declaration of Independence, rather than a prayer as previously proposed. However, the rest of the book significantly revises the earlier curriculum, provideing a greater platform for Jewish religious views of Israeli statehood.

The authors point out, for example, how the Declaration of Independence, read out ceremoniously by the founding father David Ben-Gurion in May 1948, is in their view missing a reference to "the fact that the Jewish people are entitled to establish a state of their own in the land of Israel", because this was "God's promise." 

The text goes on to point out how the nation's founding leaders debated whether or not to include the "God's promise" phrase in the declaration,  accompanied by an appropriate biblical quote.

The first part of the book defends Israel's existence as a Jewish nation state. The authors describe Israeli nationalism as an "ethno-cultural" entity that identifies with the Jewish nation. It specifies repeatedly that this fact does not contradict or detract from the country's democracy and makes little refrence to the critical debate regarding this position. 

The textbook says that "many nations in the world, including Israel, identify with an ethno-cultural model of nationalism, and henceforth when we refer to the concepts of nationalism and nation state, it will be in the sense of the ethno-cultural model, unless otherwise stated."

There are many references in the book to the Holocaust, which is also mentioned as a justification behind Israel's estabishment.

Arabs in Israeli society

Another standout trend in the new text is a rather negative, dismissive attitude toward Israeli Arab society, especially the Muslims. The book divides the identities of non-Jews in the country into many sub-identities including, Arabs, Druze, and Circassians.

Chapter nine is entitled "The Arabs, Druze and Circassians in Israeli society." It says that "most Druze do not identify themselves as Arabs" and that "Most Arabic speakers identify as members of the Arab nation, and a large number of them identify as Palestinians."

There is a lengthy and sympathetic discussion of the Druze, who serve in Israel's military, but they are not mentioned in the context of their place in Arab society.

Muslims are listed as numbering 83 percent of Israeli minorities, but the book only contains two short sentences about their life, which mainly accuse them of discriminating against and oppressing women. 

The book seems to minimize the role of Arabic as an official language of Israel. It says "the status of the Arabic language in the public sphere, not unlike its status in legislation, is inconsistent." It points out for example that some government offices do not provide services in Arabic, but fails to do so in a critical light or show how this may contravene the law.

It is worth noting that the book contains nearly nothing about the status of women in Jewish society, and there is for example not a single mention of discrimination faced by women among the ultra-Orthodox, or the enduring controversy over increasing instances of exclusion of  women from public venues in deference to rabbis' demands.  

The text also fails to delve into the social schism that divides the Orthodox from the non-observant or secular Jews in Israel.

Rabin's legacy

The book's references to the 1995 assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin are also problematic, in that the cataclysmic event is mentioned in only a few superficial sentences. While the text clearly condemns the killing, assassin Yigal Amir gets only a brief reference without any background information or any discussion of his motives.

The only academic adviser mentioned by the book is Aviad Bakshi, who identifies with the right. All the authors are Jews. The ministry says it sought feedback from Arab editors, but none of their names appear in the credits. 

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