Israel's Education Ministry Is Promoting Exclusion of Women

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Students taking the matriculation exam in Tel Aviv, June, 2020.
Students taking the matriculation exam in Tel Aviv, June, 2020. Credit: Meged Gozani

Under the guise of questions in reading comprehension and applied knowledge on the matriculation exam in civics, the Education Ministry recently made it clear that separation between men and women is part of a “unique cultural identity” that should be respected; that the secular public is responsible for the ultra-Orthodox community’s self-segregation; and the process of religious indoctrination is an invention due to nonreligious Israelis’ identity problems.

This is how the Education Ministry promotes the exclusion of women and presents it as natural and necessary. Women’s status is one of the clearest signs of a democratic society’s resilience – and the Education Ministry’s attempts to pull Israel backward on this front must be stopped.

One of the sections of the civics matriculation exam (bagrut), which was given a few weeks ago to students in high-school equivalency tracks, concerned “the segregation in Haredi society.” The section involved “analyzing” an article from the Makor Rishon newspaper that claimed secular people were fighting “too often against everything that smelled of Judaism” and that gender-segregated cultural performances should be protected by law, “similar to the Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv, whose demonstrative nature bothers many Israelis.”

The Education Ministry’s scoring guide, which instructs exam graders what arguments the students should take away from the text, lists the following: “The nonreligious public responds with extremism and is unwilling to compromise with the religious,” is afraid of the influence of the religious parties that “want to ‘confer knowledge of Judaism,’ and in the language of the secular: religious indoctrination.” To complete the argument, the authors of the exam included cartoons that ridicule the fight against religious indoctrination. 

The article quoted on the exam gives a partial and biased account of the gender-separated performance held in Afula last year, and rules out answers that question the justification for gender separation – or that assert that the state is obliged to protect the rights of women and members of the LGBTQ community and to allow their public expression. Students who answered in this spirit were punished with deducted points.

As opposed to questions on controversial issues on previous civics exams, this time there was no attempt to present the arguments of those opposed to gender segregation or religious indoctrination. Silencing the opposition to gender segregation – which is the reincarnation of the old, evil exclusion of women – abandons the field to one side, which has taken over civics education. The questions and answers on the exam make it clear that this is not just narrowness of thought, which is foreign to any educational principle, but dangerous indoctrination.

The Education Ministry must apologize to the students of Israel for the exam, which requires them to justify gender segregation in the public arena, and take advantage of the debate that arose to clarify its commitment to full equality between genders.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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