Stop, You're Scaring the Children: Fear as a Cornerstone in Israeli Education

How fear has become a necessary tool in justifying the status quo and fostering hostility toward all that is different.

Or Kashti
Or Kashti
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Or Kashti
Or Kashti

Several years ago I joined a students' trip to Poland. For the ceremony that was held at the Majdanek concentration camp, the guide brought a large tape player. When I asked her why, she was taken aback. Students need music in order to cry, she explained. During the ceremony at the big monument, the guide played songs from Israeli musician Yehuda Poliker's album “Efer Ve'avak” (“Ashes and Dust”). She achieved her goal almost completely. It was a cynical fabrication of emotion that exploited the fact that teenagers are easily influenced. A blend of emotions - crying and fear - are an appropriate brew for instilling nationalist messages. This principle is not limited to the trips to Poland, but it is the cornerstone of Israeli education, upon which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bases a significant portion of his policies. Fear, fear you shall pursue. The latest example of the fear passed from generation to generation was pointed out by commentator Yuval Dror in a post on his website early last week.

He quoted a booklet produced by the Education Ministry and the Home Front Command with the title “Ani Ta(l)mid Mukhan,” with the parentheses creating a Hebrew play on words that simultaneously reads, “I am a prepared student” and “I am always ready.” The booklet, which is taught to students in the fifth grade, purports to prepare students for earthquakes, terror attacks, suicide bombers, missiles, chemical warfare and more. Yet, its primarily function is to transmit the message that catastrophe, the specific nature of which is irrelevant, can occur at any moment. Apparently, restraint is perceived as a trait of the weak, so the kids are barraged with horror stories. Dror related in his post that his daughter prefers not to attend these stressful classes, which are run by sales agents on behalf of the Home Front Command. That would appear to be the normal response.

Instilling fear is one of the few tasks in which the Education Ministry actually succeeds. It begins with pre-school, when Pharaoh, Hitler and the Arab countries that rose up to destroy us in 1948 become one big, confusing mess and continue to be so for the 12 years of studies. One can see its traces in, among other areas, history instruction, from which any hint of complexity or dissent is removed – absent are any ideas that would deviate even slightly from narrative of self-reliance. The result is the memorization of a chain of tragedies with very little context. This is no mistake. For years, the senior officials of the Education Ministry have known that properly imparting the curriculum to high school students would require at least another three hours of instruction per week. In a moment of honesty, maybe they will say so publicly.

Fear is a necessary ingredient in justifying the status quo in the story that the Jewish majority tells itself about itself. The ideas projected towards those outside – the Arab minority, the Palestinians in the territories who simply follow in the path of the Nazis, and all the other anti-Semites in the world - are an illusion. A student educated to interpret the reality around him using a victimized world view will ultimately decide to withdraw behind large gates and high walls and live surrounded only by those who are like him. That life is much simpler. The tolerance for those who are different –

with respect to class, ethnic origin, culture and the like - is gradually eroded, as can be seen from the several years of continuous observation conducted by social anthropologist Dr. Idan Yaron at a high school in central Israel. One nation? Barely one tribe.

The education system has fostered a fear of catastrophe, suspicion of raising historical questions and apprehension of those who are considered outsiders. In recent years, not only did the Education Ministry do very little to impart some degree of normalcy, but to the contrary, former Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar championed insularity and aloofness. This is his legacy. Current Education Minister Shay Piron must leave the comfort zone of fear behind.

Young people hug each other during the March of the Living in Oswiecim, Poland, Monday, April 8, 2013. Credit: AP

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