The Education Ministry added a new condition for organizers of external programming in Israel’s public schools, demanding that they commit that their programs do not include anything that “shames or humiliates the Israel Defense Forces, its soldiers, its casualties or the casualties of terror attacks.” As readers may recall, in exchange for joining the governing coalition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave Noam party chairman Avi Maoz control over the Education Ministry department responsible for external programming and partnerships in the schools. And yet, the new condition was issued only in the name of the Education Ministry.
This new condition paints a warped picture, as if Israeli students had previously been subjected to external programming that shames IDF soldiers or humiliates fallen soldiers and victims of terror attacks. It seems completely ludicrous, until you recall that this is a government whose culture minister seeks to claw back government funding from a documentary film about the city of Hebron just because it faithfully depicts reality. It turns out that according to the new government, accurately showing the truth undermines Israel’s image.
So who is the new provision aimed at? The Parents Circle – Families Forum, an organization of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families, whose visits to schools have sparked attacks by the right. Do they shame the IDF or the memory of the fallen? Of course not. “On the contrary,” the forum says, “respect for the fallen and the sanctity of life are the engine that drives mothers and fathers, siblings, children and other relatives to abandon the desire for vengeance ... and painfully tell their stories.” But that hasn’t prevented the new government, which wants to make the other side disappear, from denying their pain, burning any bridge to peace, distorting reality and depicting them as people who shame and humiliate soldiers and the slain.
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What frightens the Education Ministry and Maoz, as the forum correctly said, is that “Israeli students will get to know other aspects of the reality in which we all live, and develop independent, critical thinking.” And then, “they might demand change.”
The new government is waging a multifront war. Weakening the justice system is meant to give the current Knesset majority unlimited power to legislate and do whatever it pleases, with no checks and balances. Curbing freedom of expression and freedom of the press will give it the freedom to act without transparency or a free press and thereby limit its exposure to criticism.
But the best way to enable the majority to rule with no restraints is to destroy ordinary Israelis’ ability to have doubts about the government’s actions and policies. To this end, it’s necessary to catch them while they’re still young by censoring the curriculum, preventing their exposure to a variety of opinions and worldviews and shaping their consciousness to fit the government’s mold.
This dangerous process must be fought through outside initiatives that will enable all these organizations to expose students to reality. We must not allow Israelis’ consciousness to be corrupted by the dangerous government now in power.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.