Israel's Education Ministry: Brainwashing Under the Cover of Privatization

Privatization in state schools has long since ceased to be a mere economic or administrative matter. It's ultra-nationalist brainwashing under the cover of privatization.

Avirama Golan
Avirama Golan
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Bennett in the Habayit Hayehudi election headquarters after the release of the exit polls, March 18, 2015.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Avirama Golan
Avirama Golan

It’s lucky that we’re at the height of the summer vacation. Otherwise, civics teachers would be torn between the pressure to prepare students for the matriculation exams and the need to say something about the events of the past weekend. And any who dared to say something that could be interpreted as shock and tried to open a discussion would have risked being denounced as teachers talking about politics, and as leftists, Jew-haters and anti-Zionists.

Yes indeed, Yesha is really here (with or without Gaza, the idea embodied by the Hebrew acronym for Judea, Samaria and Gaza remains). In Tel Aviv cafes it may be possible, for now, to avert one’s eyes a bit from the deep change that has long since taken place in Israeli society, but only for now. Yesha is already here. The fantasy of separation, which in itself reflects a mood of childish self-indulgence, is destined to be shelved.

Yesha is already here, because the propagandists of the settlements were smart enough to plant the seeds of their doctrine throughout the area within the Green Line, and made good use of their representatives’ presence in key political positions to deepen the plowing and planting. Thus, for instance, under the euphemism of “Torah cadres,” the settlers have taken care to settle in development towns and mixed Jewish-Arab cities, where distress and neglect by the state practically invite them to paint themselves as saviors of the nation – with generous funding from the state, of course, including from ministers of the centrist Yesh Atid party under the last government.

Ditto for the government’s Jewish Identity Administration, which Rabbi Avichai Rontzki led with the help of the millions of shekels that then-Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett arranged for him via that ministry, since he didn’t succeed in forcing Rontzki onto the Education Ministry. But now, even that problem has been solved: Bennett is the education minister, and Israeli children will now learn about Jewish identity the way they should – according to the best extremist, separatist, racist traditions of the ultra-Orthodox wing of religious Zionism.

The interesting point here is that Bennett, unlike in the past, no longer needs to force the content he believes in on either senior Education Ministry officials or the teachers. This is because the neoliberal system has privatized and crushed the Education Ministry and drastically weakened the independence of the professionals, to the point that all Bennett has to do now is deliver the final blow.

And that’s exactly what he’s doing. Transferring flagship ministry programs to outside contractors (Haaretz, July 28) is an advanced stage of privatization. The director general’s circulars have long since been written by a freelancer from a private company. Now the process will be completed, and even formulation of educational policy will be entrusted to whatever private companies win the tenders. If until now the excuse for privatization was that the state is only supposed to supervise and oversee, now even the regulator will be an outside contractor.

The funniest part, or the saddest, is that many center-left voters think it’s not so terrible, and perhaps even preferable, for private companies to run this business called education. The main thing is for this outdated, cumbersome system – from which most of these voters have in any case removed their children in order to send them to specialized schools – goes to hell. That’s how much they love privatization, without understanding that it serves only NGOs dear to the heart of Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi party.

Such NGOs will reap a double benefit from these public funds: They’ll be enriched, and they’ll also continue to deepen the process of nationalist radicalization. This has long since ceased to be mere privatization. It’s brainwashing under the cover of privatization.