Top Education Official Slams Civics Curriculum as Slanted Against Israel

Zvi Zameret, who heads the ministry's pedagogical secretariat, says that civics courses in Israeli schools do not include enough material relating to 'Jewish history and religion.'

A top Education Ministry official offered rare public criticism yesterday of the school system's civics instruction curriculum, which he believes is too slanted against Israel.

Zvi Zameret, who heads the ministry's pedagogical secretariat, said Tuesday that civics courses in Israeli schools do not include enough material relating to "Jewish history and religion."

Zvi Zameret
Daniel Bar-On

"The way in which civics is taught is critical and analytical," Zameret told an educational conference in Tel Aviv yesterday. "The students do not sufficiently know the facts. In teaching the subject, there is a lack of attention paid to Jewish history and religion."

Despite the many hours devoted to civics, "nobody has bothered to check whether the course material does more to unite society or simply increases the alienation, dissension, and tension," he said.

Since being named to the post by Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, Zameret has voiced his displeasure with the civics curriculum behind closed doors. Yesterday, however, he broke custom and aired his grievances in public.

Zameret's comments evoked a backlash from critics who said that he is unqualified to determine the content that is taught in Israeli schools.

"Zameret needs to stop interfering in the curriculum that is taught in civics classes," said Dr. Ricki Tessler, who teaches education at Hebrew University. "He is not an expert in the topic, and it is not his job."

Last summer, Zameret sparked an uproar after he ordered a revision of the country's primary civics textbook, "Lihyot Ezrahim Beyisrael" ("To Be Citizens in Israel" ). Zameret saw the book as focusing "too much on criticism of the state" and causing students "to feel that everything is bad." Zameret previously criticized the textbook for saying that "the State of Israel has engaged in a policy of discrimination against its Arab citizens since its establishment," and has said he wants the book to devote space to the establishment of the state. Zameret also slashed ministerial budgets which were allocated for civics instruction, rerouting the funds for subjects like Judaism, bible studies, and Talmudic literature. But after news of the cuts was first reported in Haaretz, the ministry's director-general Shimshon Shoshani partially reversed the decision.

During his remarks to the educational conference in Tel Aviv yesterday, Zameret said that "civics studies are equal in scope to those of history, literature, and biblical studies." Yet an examination at the ministry's instructions reveals a different picture: ninth-grade students spend two hours a week learning civics, but six hours per week learning each of the following subjects: history, literature, and bible.

"Bible studies are taught beginning in second grade, literature is taught from fifth grade, and history from sixth grade," said an Education Ministry official. "Aside from fourth grade, there is almost no teaching of civics in elementary school."

Citing a comparative study of civics instruction in five countries - England, Canada, Australia, Germany, and Hungary - Zameret said: "In most countries, civics studies are not part of the required curriculum, but are rather integrated with other subjects. In Israel, the energies devoted to the subject are greater."

Lamenting the lack of material that touches on Jewish history and religion, Zameret said: "The crux of civics instruction focuses on the democratic nature of the state. Most of the students do not know the history of the state. They cannot, for example, tell us about the various waves of immigration to the Land of Israel."

"In contrast to Israel, civics lessons in other countries include the national history of those places," Zameret said. "Only afterward does it delve into other things."

Zameret said that students do not have a grasp of the history of the state of Israel as well as its geography. In his remarks, he implied that this was due to the fact that "most of Israel's students were born during the period of the Oslo Accords."