מיכל שליו רייכר
Michal Shalev-Reicher
Gideon Sa'ar

Rising political powers spell bad news for secular Israelis

Opinion: Gideon Sa’ar, Naftali Bennett, and Rafi Peretz are ideological, dogmatic and conservative politicians, and the non-religious population needs equally strong and determined leaders to meet stand against them in the upcoming elections

Michal Shalev-Reicher |
Published: 12.18.20 , 14:26
The candidates in the upcoming elections include three people, heading three separate factions, who will actively try to infuse the country's politics and education with religious ideology - the newly independent Gideon Sa’ar, Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, and Jewish Home chair Rafi Peretz.
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  • And for liberal and secular Israelis, all three are very bad news.
    Through their policies, the three - who have all served as education minister - made Israel’s education system more religious, closed-off, nationalistic and conservative than ever before.
    גדעון סערגדעון סער
    Gideon Sa'ar
    (Photo: Connect)
    They are responsible for the systematic attempt to impose an Orthodox Jewish identity on Israel’s students, and are guilty of continuously exploiting the education system for political gain.
    Sa’ar led the "The Heritage and Culture of Israel" program, which forced students to develop a religious identity by coercing them into studying the weekly Torah portion and reading essays on the "connection of the people of Israel to the Land of Israel" - all while expressing contempt for the secular spiritual world.
    He also introduced visits to the West Bank city of Hebron, and according to media reports doubled the budget of "I BELONG ISRAEL" - a week-long trip for teens and families across the country, which also includes national-religious brainwashing.
    Sa’ar still claims the national education system lacks sufficient Jewish content. During his stint as education minister between 2009 and 2013, national-religious intervention in the content of citizenship studies began to essentially erase the study of democracy from the curriculum.
    While the move received significant public criticism, both Bennett (2015-19) and Peretz (2019-2020) also adopted the religious-nationalist route.
    Defense Minister Naftali BennettDefense Minister Naftali Bennett
    Naftali Bennett
    (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
    Bennett's contribution to the religionization of the education system cannot be overstated. During his time, the religious program "Israeli Jewish Culture" was launched and the activities of religious associations in schools prospered, which led to the privatization of values education and its transfer to religious bodies.
    Bennett even said that learning Judaism was more important than studying mathematics and science, and called secular parents who worked to educate their children "auto-antisemitic.”
    Peretz vocally supported conversion therapy and spoke out against the inclusion of women in combat roles in the IDF, and actually managed to bring religious coercion to new levels.
    The tenures of the three as education ministers have led to the discrimination against state education. Recent data even show that students in religious state schools receive a 30% larger budget than students in regular state schools.
    So, what will happen if Sa’ar or Bennett actually claims the prime minister's seat after the elections? What will happen if their conservative approach affects the continued inclusion of women in diverse positions in the military? What will become of LGBT rights? How will Shabbat be affected? What about weddings, burials and kosher certifications? Will the Chief Rabbinate receive an exclusive monopoly over all of them?
    הבית היהודי אישר את ההתמודדות המשותפת עם בן גבירהבית היהודי אישר את ההתמודדות המשותפת עם בן גביר
    Rafi Peretz
    (Photo: Yariv Katz)
    What of the education system itself? Will teachers have to become religious agents for central government? What about public spaces? Will gender segregation be forced upon secular cities?
    The answers seem pretty clear. All three have proven to be both ideologues and capable of executing those ideologies.
    If one of them does take the helm of our ship of state we are likely to see an extreme conservative approach spread into all areas of life in Israel.
    In the face of such ideological and determined political leaders, equally determined secular leaders must rise and understand the depth of the threat, and act to protect the large section of the public that is placing its trust in them.
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