The Anti-democratic Teacher’s Guide

Israeli students taking a matriculation exam, 2019
Ilan Assayag

Israel's Education Ministry’s new instructions to civics teachers mark another chapter in the battle the right wing has waged in recent years against human and civil rights. Step by step, the right wing, through its emissaries in the education system, seeks to undermine the foundations of democratic life and impose their distorted viewpoint, according to which there are no restraints against the tyranny of the majority, and in which judicial oversight has no role.

Ahead of the opening of the school year, the Education Ministry official responsible for civics studies, Einat Ohayon, published teacher’s guides covering, among other things, the rule of law and the nation-state law. A few days later, Ohayon added instructions that ahead of the matriculation exam in civics this coming summer, students will be required to “know in detail” three clauses of the nation-state law, which was passed by the Knesset last summer. At the same time it was decided not to study the subject of a multicultural state.

According to the Education Ministry, the publication of the teacher’s guide stemmed from “a pedagogical need for a broader explanation.” Other officials in the ministry and some civics teachers say they have their doubts: The guide is intended to direct the teachers – and through them, students – to positions that the Education Ministry expects to receive as answers in the civics matriculation exam. Despite the guide’s carelessly and poorly written clauses, the message is clear: The rule of law does not include human rights and that “tension exists” between the two. The teacher’s guide also ignores the existence of judicial oversight of laws that impair Basic Laws.

Likewise, the basic democratic principle of protecting the minority from the tyranny of the majority, among other things by the rule of law and human and civil rights, is not mentioned in the teacher’s guide. The guide reflects the abhorrence with which many parts of the right-wing camp regard essential democracy, by which laws are also examined according to how they conform to democratic values, as the previous civics textbook explained well. That textbook also stressed that “a law that conforms to democratic values is the worthy law.” In the Education Ministry of recent years, which shredded and rewrote the old book, such ideas are considered dangerous.

The demand that students be able to provide details on three clauses of the nation-state law, while knowledge of the “public discourse and sensitivities around the law” are not obligatory, is a clear expression of the political-educational priorities of the ministry: memorizing clauses outranks discussions and dilemmas. This is also a way of sterilizing the subject of civics, which has its own reward: weakening democracy.

The ray of light is the civics teachers who refuse to accept the Education Ministry’s new discourse. It is hoped that MK Benny Gantz will be able to form a government and that Israel’s next education minister will direct the education system back to educating Israel’s children according to democratic values.

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