When Netanyahu teaches us history
Op-ed: The prime minister may have issued a clarification on his mufti-Hitler comments, but as far as he is concerned he made no error. His exact intention is that we'll learn the history of the Holocaust by reciting and memorizing, without asking difficult questions.
The story Prime Minister Benjamin told the Zionist Congress about the meeting between Adolf Hitler and the grand mufti of Jerusalem led the media, together with the social media, to give the public a lesson in the history of the Holocaust, focusing on the chronicles of the Final Solution.
And rightfully so: In a democratic state, one must not turn a blind eye to a historical error made by the prime minister. The problem is that in order to fix this error, it's not enough to listen to a history lesson of this kind. It's not enough to publish a clarification post on the prime minister's Facebook page either. Why?
It's not enough because a considerable part of the Israeli public has already been in this lesson. Anyone who graduated from high school here in the past few decades has attended it.
The Holocaust subject has been part of the curriculum for more than 35 years, especially since the amendment to the State Education Law (1981), which mandates "instilling awareness of the memory of the Holocaust and heroism, and educating students to honor them." Chapters in the history of World War II and the Holocaust have been studied for years in history lessons in school and included in the matriculation exam's material.
It's not enough because the Israeli public will forget this history lesson as well. Anyone who has graduated from school here knows that the worst way to internalize new knowledge is to recite and memorize it. While the Holocaust subject is included in the material studied for the matriculation exam, passing the exam requires discipline and cooperation with the system and a short-term memory ability.
It's not enough because the way to learn history is not through exposure to information in itself. Anyone who has graduated from school here knows that the most efficient way to bore someone is to make him fall asleep. The foundations of history studies are expressions of alertness, imparting tools for critical thinking and developing the ability to look at the information in its broader contexts, from different angles and from the other side's perspective.
It's not enough because the way to learn the History of the Holocaust is by presenting difficult questions, questions which require self-examination and lead to a brave discussion on ethics and on going with and against the flow. For example, is evil banal? What turns ordinary people into mass murderers? What makes people start fearing and stop thinking? When are we also indifferent to our fellowman's suffering? How can we detect the first signs of dehumanization? Anyone who has graduated from school here knows that such questions are not asked in the classroom.
It’s not enough, because the way to learn the history of the Holocaust is based on the recognition that the slogan "Never Again" is universal and on some acknowledgement of cases of genocide in the history of humanity, like the Armenian genocide 100 years ago and like the genocide taking place in Darfur in recent years. Because whoever graduated from high school here knows that in the school ceremony this slogan has only one meaning: Never again for the Jewish people.
On Friday, a clarification post was published on Netanyahu's Facebook page, followed by reports that the prime minister had taken back his previous comment. But that is not enough either. It's not enough because the prime minister didn't really take it back.
As far as Netanyahu is concerned, there was no error here. That is his exact intention. That we'll recite and memorize. That we'll obey and cooperate with the system. That we'll excel in short-term memory. That he and his friends will make us doze off. That we won't ask difficult questions. That we'll close our eyes. That we'll shut ourselves out. That we'll segregate ourselves. That we'll be afraid.
Dr. Sharon Geva is in charge of the research group on education and Holocaust at the School of Advanced Studies of the Kibbutzim College of Education, Technology and Arts.