Editorial

Israel's Minister of Religious Indoctrination

The education minister took issue with Haaretz's report on kids' science textbooks referencing Jewish prayer. But Bennett’s conduct proves he's dedicated to religious-nationalist missionizing

A page from the first-grade science book that shows a farmer plowing, planting seeds and praying.

On Friday, Haaretz published an interview conducted by Nir Gontarz with Sarah Kliachko, the author of a first-grade science textbook (“Plow, Seed, Pray”). Kliachko told Gontarz that the Education Ministry had instructed her to add religious content to the latest edition of the book. Complying with the directive, she wrote in the chapter “What a Farmer Does in the Fall” that a farmer “plows the field, sows seeds and at the end of Sukkot, prays for rain and asks: 'Bestow dew and rain for a blessing upon the face of the earth,'” which comes from the traditional prayer for rain.

Later, on social media, Education Minister Naftali Bennett attacked Haaretz journalist Barak Ravid – who broke the story when he found the passage in his daughter’s school book – and the initiators of the campaign against increased religious indoctrination called Project 61. He accused these people of “auto-anti-Semitism,” lying (“fake news”) and incitement. In addressing the actual issue of increased religious content, Bennett grasped at the straw that the book came out in 2011, under the previous education minister, Gideon Sa’ar.

That is a pretense of innocence. First of all, this is not an unusual example. Many other instances of the extensive use of religious sources in textbooks have come to light in recent months, from the earliest elementary grades through high school, more than once without connection to the subject of study. The process of embedding religious content in textbooks for the secular school system began before Bennett came to the Education Ministry, but according to Kliachko as well as other publishers and authors, the trend has grown in recent years. The instruction to insert this content into grammar textbooks gradually crept into other subjects.

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While increasing religious content in textbooks, Bennett also significantly increased the so-called centers for the strengthening of Jewish identity, which operate only in secular schools. Many of the heads of these centers are connected to Bennett’s party, Habayit Hayehudi; the director general of the organization representing them is a member of the party’s central committee.

Second, even if a book was published under Sa’ar, its use today is fully Bennett’s responsibility. Indeed, let Bennett correct the injustice caused by his predecessors and put the textbook out to pasture, and publish a new textbook that’s purely scientific.

Bennett’s conduct proves yet again that he is determined to make the ministry over which he has received temporary stewardship a tool for religious-nationalist indoctrination.

The education minister should be reminded once again that it is the right of secular parents to oppose making their children a captive audience of a system that sanctifies values which are foreign to them. In his hysterical response, Bennett showed that he fears secular involvement, the first signs of which can be seen throughout the country. This is an excellent reminder why opposition must continue to increased religious content in the education system.

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