Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar
Photo: Ofer Amram

Civics studies to focus on Jewish democracy

Education Ministry approves controversial changes to high school civics curriculum which will emphasize historical justifications for State of Israel's establishment

A new civics curriculum is underway after being approved by the Education Ministry on Monday. The new curriculum has a bigger emphasis on the connection between a Jewish and democratic state.


The program's approval encountered a few obstacles due to a public battle between civics teachers and Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar who sought to introduce the change.



A source within the Education Ministry noted that while the alterations were relatively moderate, they definitely mark a change towards a more nationalistic and Jewish direction.


The changes include additions like a historical introduction to the Balfour declaration and the UN's partition plan in 1947.


The declaration of independence will be studied with an emphasis on the historical and international justification for the establishment of a Jewish State in Israel. There will also be an emphasis on the State of Israel as the Jewish people's nation state while explaining it from the perspective of democratic values.


No elementary changes

The chapter on Israel's characteristics as a Jewish State will also include various aspects of the role of Jewish law in the public arena, as well as a debate over the status of the Hebrew language as Israel's official language.


The Jewish calendar, holidays and symbols will also be studied. Students will be given an introduction to Jewish communities in the Diaspora and study the various forms of Jewish identity from around the world.


The curriculum presentation stated that: "In light of the keen public debate that has developed in recent years over the civics curriculum and the feedback and self critique from teachers and civics education supervisors, the Chairman of the Education Ministry's Pedagogical Secretariat Dr. Zvi Zameret decided to update the curriculum.


"The civics panel responsible for the curriculum decided not to make elementary changes in the goals and structure of the curriculum, instead giving it a needed update in light of the changes in the academic sphere and the educational sphere over the last few years and in light of the feedback and the public debate that developed around the subject."


Professor Asher Cohen, Chairman of the Education Ministry's civics panel said: "Our guideline was that there wouldn't be any contradiction, even an indiscernible one between the existence of a Jewish state and a democratic state, thus students will realize that the Law of Return is a democratic law that exists in many western countries like Greece and Poland."


'Harm democracy'

He believes that the battle over the curriculum was in fact over the "ownership" of the term democracy, stating, "Some people think they have exclusive rights to understanding democracy, and that isn't the case.


"We believe students must study the principles and constitutional values in a Jewish democratic state even if it is to the dissatisfaction of segments of society who only wish for a democratic state or a Jewish state."


Hadar Lifshitz, a civics teacher and member of the civics panel said: "The old curriculum was characterized by complete disconnection from the Jewish identity and there were those who doubted the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish State.


"Nevertheless, the new curriculum was adjusted to combine national motifs while emphasizing that there is no paradox between Judaism and democracy and that civics studies cannot be disconnected from the Jewish character."


Miriam Darmoni Sharvit, head of the civics team at the Center for Educational Technology believes that including Jewish content could harm the democracy studies.


"It is true that there is no contradiction between Judaism and democracy but if up to now the program clearly suggested that the main theme was teaching democracy now there is a sudden attempt to balance the values."


She added that she would have expected that as part of the democratic perspective of defending minorities, a stronger emphasis would have been allotted to cultivating affinity and belonging among students from the Arab sector.


Nahya Faraj, a civics teacher from Kfar Kassem regretted the fact that the new study program "ignores the Arab student's needs."


"The Arab students are citizens too, but when they are being taught in civics classes about Judaism and Zionism instead of pluralism and democracy, the result is that they are no longer engaged in the class and feel alienation from the state."


'We need bigger change'

Others saw the change as a positive step. "The trend is positive but insufficient," civics teacher Yossi Londin said. "We need a bigger change that will allow the education system to fight Israel's de-legitimization in the world. Israeli students need to learn that a nation state is moral and democratic."


Dr. Ricky Tesler, chairwoman of the civics academic forum believes public pressure helps maintain the balance between democracy and nationalism. "This is a legitimate change common in most western nations which educate on the advent of nationalism as a basis for civics and an understanding of the background of their countries' establishment."


However, she noted that the program must be monitored to avoid offending democratic values and minority rights.



פרסום ראשון: 07.19.11, 19:37
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