Israel's Education Ministers Need an Education

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made sure that all his education ministers augmented nationalist and militarist education in state schools.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, March 29, 2015.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, March 2015. A prime minister is also an educator.Credit: AFP
Ruth Feriel
Ruth Feriel

The failure of Zionist Union and the left at the ballot box last month stemmed partly from the failure of all those involved in education in this country. In order to maintain his rule, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made sure that all his education ministers placed militaristic and nationalistic education at the forefront of education in our state-school system. Plans were drawn up to incorporate the Israel Defense Forces into high-school studies – to include trips to Hebron and elsewhere in the territories – and to initiate daily flag-raising ceremonies. Unprecedented levels of Jewish and Holocaust studies were adopted as well.

No time was devoted to educating toward peace; and no enhanced studies of civics or humanistic values were initiated. Political education? No such thing. There were but a few principals, teachers or parents who dared oppose domineering education ministers.

How did this come about? The education system was severely damaged by Limor Livnat (Likud) and her deputy, who quietly dismissed hundreds of teachers between 2001 and 2006. Since then, silence has fallen over anyone involved in education in Israel.

What a huge gap and contrast between former education ministers who came from Labor and Meretz and those appointed by Netanyahu. The late Shulamit Aloni emphasized democracy and civil rights; Amnon Rubinstein took up the quest for peace; and Yossi Sarid embraced the periphery as a high priority. Even Likud members in outlying areas commended him for that approach.

The IDF continues with its nationalistic and religious education, incorporating rabbis who are sprouting up everywhere in their role as army preachers.

A few months ago, I was present at a ceremony, marking the end of basic training, in which two rabbis delivered speeches. One told the soldiers that anywhere our feet step belongs to us – be strong and courageous!

We’ve tasted the bitter fruits of such nationalistic preaching, with the actions of the “price-tag” vandals who commit racially motivated hate crimes, and in the words of the prime minister regarding our Arab citizens on Election Day; nationalistic education with flag waving and a conception of the settlements as part of Israeli territory. Concessions in the interest of peace? Unmentionable within the current, nationalistic education system.

Netanyahu is setting a bad educational example for our youth (indeed, for all of us) with his poor human relations, which range from his own household to his selection of a president and Bank of Israel governor.

I listened to his election speeches and, between the lines, one could detect contempt toward members of Zionist Union, such as only an arrogant and cynical person can exhibit. His refusal to talk to our foes sets the very worst educational example a prime minister can give. For better or worse, a prime minister is also an educator.

In contrast to Likud, the Labor Party neglected education and didn’t sufficiently struggle against Netanyahu’s education ministers. The voices of principals, teachers and parents were also not heard.

Many parents despaired and transferred their children from state schools to private ones, once they understood that there was no longer any hope of receiving an education with values, only one with tests and grades.

Zionist Union did not draw lessons from the failure of former leader Shelly Yacimovich, who preferred to emphasize the economy, not peace and education. The focus on economics, which Zionist Union also embraced, was then taken over by Moshe Kahlon and his Kulanu party.

The center and left dimmed their messages regarding any future peace process, and education was barely mentioned. That was most regrettable.

I am frightened when I hear of the possible inclusion of Zionist Union in a Netanyahu coalition government. This time, if no emphasis is placed on peace, or education toward peace and humanistic values, it will spell the end of the center and left in this country. Don’t let it happen.

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