Naftali Bennett's Failure as Education Minister

If banning a novel about a Jewish-Arab love affair from schools constitutes 'values' in the eyes of the education minister, woe to Israel’s children.

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Education Minister Naftali Bennett addresses protesters in the settlement of Beit El in the West Bank, July 28, 2015.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett addresses protesters in the settlement of Beit El in the West Bank, July 28, 2015.Credit: Courtesy

Education Minister Naftali Bennett tried to assume a statesmanlike pose when he came out in support of law enforcement and the Shin Bet security service, and against parts of his constituency, in the investigation of the Duma arson murders. But just a few days later, the affair surrounding the decision not to include Dorit Rabinyan’s “Borderlife” in the high-school curriculum proved that Bennett is incapable of overcoming the tendency of the extreme right, which controls Israel, to mislead the public with crude manipulation and cheap demagoguery.

When asked by Israel Channel 2 News to comment on the decision, Bennett employed crude but classic spin that once again exploited Israel’s religion of security to justify his ministry’s shameful excuses. Even though the broad public criticism of the ban had to do with the reasons given for it, which revolved around fears of assimilation and a desire to protect Jewish identity, Bennett, who not only admitted that he hadn’t read the book but even lied by saying it was slated to be part of the core curriculum, argued that it depicted Israeli soldiers as “sadistic war criminals” and equated them with “Hamas terrorists.” He claimed that this was behind the decision to exclude “Borderlife,” echoing the inflammatory claims made against Breaking the Silence.

Bennett also missed no opportunity to add fuel to the fire, calling those who were against banning the novel “Garbuzes,” a reference to artist Yair Garbuz’s derogatory pre-election comments about religious Jews. He thereby demonstrated intellectual dishonesty, an especially problematic trait for an education minister, and also wasted a vital opportunity to adopt a truly statesmanlike position not only toward Jews but also toward Israel’s large Arab majority — to signal that he sees them as citizens with genuinely equal rights, and that depicting a romance between an Arab man and a Jewish woman does not lead to sin or to cultural annihilation, and certainly shouldn’t be taboo in the classroom. Moreover, Bennett committed the offense of inciting against the left, even though the book’s subject isn’t political at all; it merely describes a slice of reality.

Religious rightists of the school of Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi party frequently boast of the “values” that derive from Jewish tradition. It’s hard to understand how people who are constantly talking about lofty values managed to overlook the huge scandal entailed in disqualifying a book on the grounds that it describes a romance between an Arab and a Jew. If that constitutes “values” in the eyes of Israel’s education minister, woe to Israel’s children.

Amid the great darkness the Israeli government is spreading, there’s a bit of comfort in the response of teachers and principals, many of whom openly and courageously rebelled against the decision, as well as that of the public, which rushed out to buy the book. These responses prove that many Israelis aren’t buying Bennett’s spin, and they have the power to fight the rule of fascism and racism.

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