Teachers Hold Emergency Meeting to Back Civics Supervisor

The supervisor, Adar Cohen, has come in for criticism over some of the civics material his department has authorized.

Dozens of civics teachers held an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss their fear that political pressure will lead to the firing of the Education Ministry's civics supervisor.

The supervisor, Adar Cohen, has come in for criticism over some of the civics material his department has authorized, and the ministry must soon decide to either give him tenure or dismiss him.

Several teachers at the Tel Aviv meeting charged that the push to oust Cohen is part of a broader effort to silence people who seek to express certain opinions. Most of the criticism of Cohen has come from people who lean politically right.

The Education Ministry responded in a statement that "attempts to apply pressure and intervene just prior to a decision will not influence the ministry's professional process."

Cohen has been criticized in particular over a civics textbook he approved, "Starting Out in Citizenship." His opponents cite the textbook as a prime example of inappropriate instructional material. Inter alia, they criticized the way it relates to the Goldstone Report, which accused the Israel Defense Forces of war crimes during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in winter 2008-2009, as well as its treatment of right-wing violence in Israel and its depiction of immigration from the former Soviet Union. The ministry ultimately withdrew authorization for use of the book by schools, and Cohen himself has acknowledged problems with its content.

"We must become more radical," said one teacher at Wednesday's meeting. "All of us have encountered the politicization of the education system."

"The ministry is deciding who 'the other' is, and that he has no place at the ministry," added another participant. "Today it's Cohen. He will fall, but there will be others along the way."

One of Cohen's foremost critics is Prof. Avraham Diskin, who wrote a rival textbook that was approved for use this year. Diskin opposes giving Cohen tenure, calling the prospect "an educational disaster on the scale of three million students, who will study ignorance and post-Zionist slogans."

The effort to have Cohen dismissed also included a complaint to the Civil Service Commission claiming that he had forged minutes of meetings, but the commission found no grounds for disciplinary proceedings. Critics also accuse Cohen of sole responsibility for the fiasco over the "Starting Out in Civics" textbook.

His supporters at Wednesday's meeting claimed that Cohen's job performance and professionalism have earned him broad support from across the educational spectrum. The teachers also protested what they termed an effort to shift the balance in the education system away from teaching universal democratic values in favor of particularistic Jewish values.

The group that organized Wednesday's rally claims to represent more than 1,000 civics teachers from both secular and religious schools. The group also put out a statement taking issue with the claim that Cohen was a post-Zionist.

Dr. Ricki Tessler of Hebrew University, who chairs the Academic Forum for Civics Instruction, was one of the people at Wednesday's meeting.

"All red lines have been crossed," she said. "We are fighting for the character of the country, no less and no more. [Education] Minister [Gideon] Sa'ar is motivated by political considerations and isn't even maintaining appearances any more."

She said she feared that other ministry supervisors could also be dismissed.

Adar Cohen
Nr Kafri