The good guys win
by Jonathan Rosenblum
Baltimore Jewish Times
December 8, 2000
Towards the end of Costa-Gavras’ Z, there occurs a scene of immense emotional satisfaction. One by one, a group of Greek colonels is marched into the office of a state prosecutor for interrogation, and then led out again, humiliated.
Of course, in the movies truth and justice often triumph. What gives that scene its special appeal is the knowledge that, however melodramatic, it bears some resemblance to actual historical events – the Greek junta was overthrown.
I recently experienced similar satisfaction savoring the Knesset Education Committee’s unanimous decision to ban use of the Education Ministry’s new 9th-grade history textbook A World of Changes published. Once again the guy in the white hat actually prevailed.
The denunciation of A World of Changes was almost entirely the outgrowth of a one-man crusade by Dr. Yoram Hazony, president of Jerusalem’s Shalem Center. He first called attention to the book’s failing in a New Republic article entitled, ``Anti-Social Texts: Who Removed Zionism from Israel’s Textbooks?"
Hazony charged that the new textbook on the 20th century had systematically removed much of the material from the older textbooks designed to help Israeli students identify with their pasts as Jews and Israelis. Major aspects of Zionist history, emphasized in previous textbooks, simply went missing in the Education Ministry’s new textbook.
A World of Changes omits any mention of Chaim Weizmann’s activities as head of the World Zionist Organization from 1921 to 1946. No picture of David Ben-Gurion appears, though there are photos of Salvadore Dali and the Beatles. There are two brief references to Ben-Gurion’s role as leader of the pre-State yishuv down from 15 in the previous text.The underground struggle against the British and illegal immigration under the Mandate are lumped together in a single sentence. There is no photograph of the signing of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, and the quotations from the Declaration omit those paragraphs locating the founding of the State in the continuum of Jewish history.
Emnity towards Jews in both Europe and after the creation of the State is 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.
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 1956 Sinai Campaign is attributed to the militarism of Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan. Increased border skirmishes with Egypt and fedayeen incursions are no longer mentioned. Amazingly, 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.
The classic photographs of the jubilation of Jews upon recapturing the Old City and the Wall – the awestruck young paratrooper staring up at the Kotel; Moshe Dayan and Yitzchak Rabin striding into the Old City – are all gone. While the Oslo Peace Process is described in lavish detail, there is no mention of any specific PLO terrorist attack on Israel in the 1970s or 80s.
Jewish heroism too has been largely removed. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising nor any other acts of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust are not mentioned. Neither are the Entebbe rescue and Operation Solomon.
The Knesset Committee that rejected this first post-Zionist history textbook included such left-wing stalwarts as Collete Avital, Shimon Peres’ protégé, and heard testimony against the book from former Labor MKs Professor Shevah Weiss and Yona Yahav. They who voted and testified against the text did so knowing full well that they would be excoriated in Ha’aretz as McCarthyites and know-nothings, just as Hazony has been.
The unanimity and the bravery of the committee may thus be a positive augury that Israelis are finally awakening to the realization that the greatest threat to Israel today is spiritual: Simply put, too many Israelis have lost any belief in their own right to exist in this Land or that the continued existence of the Jewish state created is worth the price that will have to be paid to preserve it.
Given the very real threats to Israel’s existence and the 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 educate its young to be indifferent to their past at best, and contemptuous of it at worst.
In our case, a nation without a past is a nation without a future.
Related Topics: Israeli Society
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free jewish media resources mailing list