Twenty years ago, one of my teachers commented that the worm eating away at the heart of Israeli society was the feeling that "we stole the Land from the Arabs.’’ At the time, I thought he was crazy. People did not talk that way in those days. Today, however, one can open up Ha’aretz any day of the week and read Avirama Golan or others describe us as "a people living on another people’s land . . . who have not learned how to live in peace with our neighbors.’’
After the Ramallah lynch, Nachum Barnea described the support for the Palestinians of many of his left-wing colleagues in the media as "absolute.’’ Since the renewal of the Intifada, Israel Prize Winner Shulamit Aloni has travelled the globe attacking Israel and defending the Palestinians. In a Le Monde interview, she had not one good word to say for Israel and not one criticism of the Palestinians.
As Education Minister, Aloni opposed trips to Auschwitz out of fear that they might arouse feelings of national identity among Jewish students, today she opposes Israel TV broadcasting images of the Ramallah lynch lest it leave Israeli Jews with the feeling that there really are those who hate us and seek our destruction.
Slowly but surely, however, the majority of Israel’s Jews are awakening to the nature of the worm within. Increasingly they recognize that the greatest threat to Israel today is one of the spirit: Without any belief in our right to live here or any sense of mission and purpose, we will not be willing to pay the price required to preserve a Jewish state. That there will be a price is no longer in doubt.
The goal of our educational system cannot continue be instilling Shulamit Aloni’s unbounded empathy for the Palestinians in our students. The Palestinians, we can be sure, do not devote much space in their textbooks to the suffering of Jews or to teaching empathy for the Jewish position in the world.
The recent unanimous rejection by the Knesset Education Committee of A World of Changes, the 9th grade history textbook produced by the Education Ministry, is the most tangible expression to date of the recognition that something is rotten in the State of Israel. Even left-wing stalwarts such as Shimon Peres’ protégé Colette Avital voted against the textbook, and former Labor MKs Prof. Shevah Weiss and Yona Yahav testified against it. They did so knowing that they would be ridiculed in Ha’aretz as McCarthyites and know-nothings meddling in matters beyond their competence.
The battle against A World of Changes was led by Jerusalem’s Shalem Center and its director Dr. Yoram Hazony. In the April 17 New Republic, Hazony charged that the new textbook on the twentieth century had removed much of the material from previous textbooks designed to help Israeli students identify with their pasts as Jews and Israelis.
Fortunately for Hazony, Professor Israel Bartal, head of the Education Ministry’s Curriculum Committee, made the same mistake as Oscar Wilde responding to the Marquis of Queensbury: he attempted to refute Hazony. In a series of debates across North America, on the web, and in newspapers, the two clashed. Hazony, a former intercollegiate debate champion, convincingly demonstrated that once the sarcasm and ad hominem attacks were stripped away, Bartal had either not responded to his charges or distorted them beyond recognition to knock down a straw man.
Major aspects of Zionist history simply went missing from the Education Ministry’s new text. There is no mention of Chaim Weizmann’s activities as head of the WIZO from 1921 to 1946, and the references to David Ben-Gurion’s role as leader of the pre-State yishuv declined from fifteen in the previous text to two in A World of Changes. The underground struggle against the British and illegal immigration in the Mandatory period are lumped together in a single sentence.
Emnity towards Jews, both Europe and after the creation of the State, is consistently downplayed.The old text detailed how the Bolsheviks sought to destroy all Jewish religion and culture; the new one cites the Russian Revolution’s proclamation of civic equality and notes that "the situation of the Jews improved.’’ Where the old text devoted three pages to Allied indifference to Hitler’s Final Solution, the new one contents itself with quoting a 1942 Allied proclamation relating to the prosecution of war criminals after the War.
Nothing conveys the horror of the Holocaust like the photographs. Significantly, A World of Changes contains not one photo of Jews being executed by Nazis or of the skeletal survivors of the camps. Not a single PLO terrorist attack on Israel in the 1970s or 80s is mentioned.
Even Israel’s wars are treated from a neutral, and occasionally even hostile, perspective. Coverage of the War of Independence has been reduced from 17 pages in the former textbook to two paragraphs in the new one. All twenty photographs of Jewish suffering and military action during the 1948 War are gone to be replaced by a solitary picture of a Palestinian refugee child in Jordan circa 1949. In place of the maps of invading Arab armies are maps showing the exile of Arabs from Israel. The impression given is that the major outcome of the War of Independence was the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem.
The prelude to the Six-Day War is described neutrally: "Military tensions rose in May 1967 [f]ollowing Israel’s downing of Syrian jets on the northern border.’’ Nasser’s closing of the Straits of Tiran and Syrian attempts to divert the headwaters of the Jordan and shelling of kibbutzim and towns are nowhere to be found.
All the drama of the recapture of the Old City and the Kotel and its significance in the context of Jewish history is lost. Gone are the classic photographs of Jewish jubilation – the awestruck young paratrooper staring up at the Kotel; Moshe Dayan and Yitzchak Rabin striding into the Old City.
Jewish heroism too is largely removed. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising is not mentioned. Neither are the Entebbe rescue and Operation Solomon.
Summarizing the new textbook, Hillel Halkin writes: "Nowhere is the ninth-grader reminded that he belongs to the people that he is reading about, that he is flesh of their flesh, blood of their blood; nowhere that their story is his.’’
Given the very real threats to Israel’s existence and the national will necessary to prevail in the face of those threats, Israel does not have the luxury of becoming the only country in the world to educated its young to be indifferent to their past at best and contemptuous of it at worst. A people with no past is a people with no future.