Educating against Zionism

Published in The Jerusalem Post on April 23, 2000

If you want your child to get a proud Zionist education, schooling that teaches appreciation of renewed Jewish sovereignty in the historic Land of Israel – better take your kid out of school. Because Israel’s revisionist educators have taken over the Ministry of Education and are out to deprogram our youth. They aim to rid our children of “the blatantly ethno-centric concept” that Zion rightfully belongs to the Zionists.


A frightening expose by Yoram Hazony in this week’s issue of *The New Republic* documents how a group of post-Zionist professors responsible for our formal educational curricula has succeeded in introducing to Israeli classrooms new history and civics textbooks go far beyond this generation’s heightened capacity for Zionist self-criticism or scholarly “myth-smashing”.


These teaching texts ruinously deconstruct this country’s founding accounts of heroism, and question Israel’s very legitimacy as Jewish national homeland. The textbooks are infuriatingly, purposefully neutral in describing the Arab-Israeli conflict, so that neither side seems more right or more just than the other.


The new ninth grade history books ask students to contemplate the Palestinian “naqba” (catastrophe), and seek to demonstrate that nationalist movements are, by their nature, evil; “the saviors of one people and the destroyers of another”. They contain full-color, full-page maps depicting the flight of Arabs from Israel and photos of Palestinian refugees. All this at the expense of the traditional Zionist narrative. Gone is the familiar map showing invasion routes of the five Arab armies that attacked the Yishuv in May 1948. The textbook contains not a single photo depicting the heroic Jewish struggle to repel the Arab invaders.


The same with the 1967 war. The unification of Jerusalem, previously understood by Jews as a homecoming to their ancient capital following a war of no-choice for Israel, is transformed into the story of the occupation of an Arab city. Hazony’s careful eye catches the fact that absent from these books are any photos of paratroopers at the Western Wall or Old City Jewish Quarter synagogues. These images might convey to impressionable Israeli students the wrong-headed, chauvinistic notion that we actually belong in eastern Jerusalem! Instead, our kids get photos of Arabic signs and text about the “capture of expansive territory”.


The rot runs even deeper. In an attempt, by their own characterization, to liberate Israeli youth from “the problematic idea of a unique Jewish nationality”, the new textbooks downplay Jewish history all-together. In the sixth grade, Israeli school kids are no longer to begin the study of history with the origins of their own people and their own civilization, beginning with the Biblical Jewish kingdoms. Israeli children are now to study a historical narrative that begins not with Jews but with Greeks: the Polis, Athens, Sparta, Greek culture, etc.


In ninth grade, Zionism, Israel and the Holocaust has been cut to 30 percent of the curriculum. Most of the time, our kids are to learn about “decolonization”, “the establishment of Algeria”, “new trends in art”, etc. Chaim Weizman and Menachem Begin are mentioned only once each in this new curriculum; there are no photos of David Ben-Gurion; and the Jewish armed resistance against the British is dispensed with in two sentences.


That’s right. Two sentences to sum up the leaky little boats of the Aliyah Bet defiantly running the British blockade. Less than one page to transmit the daring and cunning of Palmach fighters; the heroics of Gush Etzion’s defenders; the perseverance of Jerusalem’s besieged residents; and the pioneering of those who drained the swamps.


Tellingly, the post-Zionist textbooks suppress historical facts that don’t quite fit its apologetic worldview — like Jewish acts of resistance during the Holocaust (no mention of the Warsaw ghetto uprising), or the Allies’ failure to bomb railway lines leading to the gas chambers.


“These items were important to the old narrative”, writes Hazony, “because they raised the question of whether the Jews could truly rely on anyone but themselves… But these subjects might produce students who are too nationalistic, who think too ‘simplistically’ about the right of Jews to a nation-state of their own”. Such teachings might beget students who have, Heaven forbid, latent Zionist tendencies.


So one hundred short years after the founding of secular Zionism – Zionism is no longer politically correct. It is to be discarded, like other “isms” that have gone out of style, including socialism and nationalism. Ironic, isn’t it? The teaching of classic Zionism, with its emphasis on geography, demography, nationality and Bible is to become the preserve of religious schools.


The attenuation of the Zionist-Jewish perspective dangerously threatens to strip our youth of any reason to persevere in the continuing struggle for Israel’s place in the Middle East. With such an anti-Zionist ideological perspective destructively drummed into the heads of our schoolchildren, an Israeli prime minister should have no problem, several years down the road, in forking-over half or more of Jerusalem to Yasser Arafat.


We’ll be too ignorant of, or embarrassed about, our national rights as Jews in the Land of Israel to have the moral backbone to oppose him.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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