One is permitted to become emotional over the storm surrounding the new civics textbook. It is a very symbolic story, which encompasses an entire universe. But it is worth being precise in focusing on the excitement. It is impossible to write an official civics textbook for Israel today.
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For at least 20 years, Israel has been engaged in a civil war. Most of the time is could be described as a cold civil war, though it is certainly accompanied by shows of violence, whose height was of course the murder of the prime minister in the city square, after he was marked as a traitor and betrayer. It was a quite clear declaration of intent. Nonetheless, the war is being conducted under a conspiracy of silence. It does not mean it does not exist, only that it is kept quiet.
A nation that is in a civil war cannot publish a civics textbook. It’s ridiculous. In the United States in the mid-19th century, the North and the South would have been incapable of agreeing on a civics textbook. One side thought it was acceptable to enslave millions of Africans, the other side fervently believed that slavery must end. What were they supposed to do there, to pass drafts with sarcastic comments back and forth between writers and editors? To let the commissars censor and the cabinet secretaries decide?
Nations that reach the stage of civil war do not fight over textbooks, nor over allocations to cultural institutions and name tags for nonprofit organizations. Civil wars, hot or cold, must end with a decision. That does not necessarily mean that one side must be crushed, or that the winning side must impose its values on the losers. The decision can be a parting of the ways. In any event, it pays to minimize the cost. Israel is too small and entangled for a violent internal conflict.
The history of Jewish sovereignty is being repeated before our eyes. There is no point in looking away. Two states have grown back, the State of Israel and the State of Judea. The controversial textbook the Education Ministry has being trying to publish for five years now is called “To Be Citizens in Israel.” But it is impossible to write such a book. One can be either a citizen in the State of Israel or a citizen in the State of Judea. A citizen of the State of Israel is educated to believe in the authority of the state, the superiority of democracy, human rights, striving for equality and the aspiration for peace. A citizen in the State of Judea is educated to believe in rabbinic authority, the superiority of the divine command and Torah, our right to the Holy Land, in the chosen people who have the right to deprive Arabs of their rights.
The new civics textbook simply brings this truth out into the open. So what is so shocking? There are masses of people in Israel who are sick of hearing about Yitzhak Rabin’s murder and the incitement that led to it. Some of them are even convinced that the Shin Bet security service murdered him, and that in fact he deserved to die on account of the Altalena and the Oslo Accords. There are people who think secularism is a disease of limited duration that will disappear eventually. There are people who think the whole world is against us and all goyim are anti-Semites, and that the civics textbook should start with the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel, instead of with Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
This loose federation is maintained for the meantime through scaremongering and occasional wars against external enemies real or imaginary but in any event ones that do not constitute an existential danger: Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Islamic State, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. But this is just postponing the inevitable. Nothing lasts forever. In the end, a decisive resolution is necessary. Prior to that, we must recognize reality. The dream is over. A decent person must decide where he or she stands. The terminology is important: This is a civil war, not a war of brothers. Naftali Bennett cannot be my brother. He is undermining my existence. Every man to his tent, O Israel.