The right has put control over civics classes at the top of its agenda over the past decade. The religious and extreme nationalist right homed in on civics lessons as the main vehicle for changing the minds of generations of students and future voters. The subject, which is meant to serve as a foundation for democratic life, has been gutted and neutered in a gradual, methodical process intended mainly to satisfy the regime.
The strategic fight is directed first and foremost at state education (and not religious education, which enjoys pedagogical independence that no one dares interfere with). The process started with the takeover of the Education Ministry’s professional advisory board on teaching civics. It included curricular changes, intervening in teacher training and attempts to influence matriculation exam questions. The effort culminated with the revision of the main textbook, “To Be Citizens in Israel,” which had been accused of being “too liberal.” The right-wing Kohelet Policy Forum’s Dr. Aviad Bakshi, one of the authors of the nation-state law and the judicial overhaul bills, was charged with the task, which began under Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar and ended under Education Minister Naftali Bennett.
The change in civics studies is chapter one in the effort to transform the system. The textbook, released in 2016, supported the weakening of the judicial branch and checks on the government’s power, promoted the principles behind the nation-state law (passed two years later) and the judicial override clause, de-emphasized human and civil rights and stressed that majority rule is democracy’s most important component. “You on the left have created a false narrative that human rights are a main part of democracy,” was the message of the textbook’s re-writers, Bakshi chief among them, according to Yael Guron, former head of the civics curriculum. As Or Kashti reported, Guron warned her Education Ministry superiors in vain about the constant and limitless interference by those classified as “scientific advisers.”
In retrospect, it turns out that the book was a trial balloon for many principles of the judicial coup and its laws. However, the protests against the coup, which exposed the deep rift that the teaching of civics contributed to, is also an opportunity for the liberal camp to reformulate the principles of state education in general and civics in particular. It’s no accident that the textbook attracts criticism for its many omissions and misleading statements, prompting initiatives calling on teachers to stop using it.
It is an important awakening. Facing a subject reduced to a one-sided view, teachers are required to teach beyond the dictates of the regime, and to work with pupils and parents for the sake of pluralistic, critical education. To be citizens of Israel in the real sense of the phrase, they must refuse to teach the book “To Be Citizens in Israel” and refuse to study it.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.