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Israel's Education System's Shameful Censorship

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
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Education Minister Yoav Gallant in Tel Aviv, August 31, 2020.
Education Minister Yoav Gallant in Tel Aviv, August 31, 2020. Credit: Moti Milrod
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

The fact that the attorney general’s office approved Education Minister Yoav Gallant’s move some months ago to intervene in the Bible studies curriculum and remove clips from the satirical program “The Jews are Coming” from the ministry’s website for Bible studies teachers, is additional evidence that Israel’s democracy is in crisis.

The letter sent Sunday by attorney Ori Shlomai of the Justice Ministry to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel is a model of doublespeak. Shlomai states that Gallant “did not determine that the sketches from the program are invalid,” but only insisted that they be removed from the site. But how can one describe Gallant’s blatant intervention in curricular content and the decision to remove material from the website following complaints by right-wingers as anything other than invalidation of the sketches?

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Later on, the letter says that Gallant’s decision “didn’t stem from the rejection of any particular artist,” but only from “a fear of offending the public’s feelings with the inclusion of sketches from a program that is identified, in general, with a tendency to offend segments of the Israeli public.”

The Justice Ministry apparently thinks the public is stupid. If they didn’t reject the sketches and didn’t discredit their creators, then what exactly did they do? Is there any other way to understand the decision to reject content because it’s included “in a program that is identified in general with a tendency to offend?”

The explanation is simple: An item on the Education Ministry curriculum was disqualified because of the political opinions of the creators of “The Jews are Coming.” The program is identified with the left wing, which makes the sketches ipso facto invalid. The Justice Ministry is expressing a position that contradicts that of the High Court of Justice, which has ruled that artistic works can be banned only if they offend people in an extreme and severe manner.

This is another accomplishment on the list of dubious achievements ascribed to Shai Glick, a self-declared censor, national informer and citizen in service of the right-wing thought police. The pressure from him, members of the Likud Central Committee and lawmakers from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party led to the removal of the sketches from the Education Ministry website in August. Now this move has the approval of the Justice Ministry.

It doesn’t matter how much anyone will deny the political motive behind the disqualification. This is clearly censorship. The shameful stamp of approval it was given by the Justice Ministry will make it easier to intervene in syllabuses in the future, and could lead to works being banned not because of their content but because of the political leanings of their creators.

Following Gallant’s decision, a number of Bible studies teachers sent a public letter to the Education Ministry, saying they would continue to use the satirical clips. This was a proper democratic response and teachers should be encouraged to adopt it. The only way to battle right-wing efforts at censorship is to speak up.

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