Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A matter of education

It happened in between Holocaust Memorial Day and the Memorial Day for the soldiers killed in the state's wars. 

High school pupils were taken by their schools to see Yehoshua Sobol's "Ghetto", an award-winning Israeli play which had a global success. And what a  shame! As it turned out, the kids were not at all impressed by the horrors of Nazi persecution of Jews, which were presented on the stage by some of the best actors in Israel.  How could it happen that they constantly laughed and jeered and rudely interrupted the actors, throughout the play? And worse, how come that when presented with a realistic scene of a Nazi beating up a Jew, they  identified with the perpetrator rather than with the victim, broke into cheers for the Nazi on the stage and called out: "Yeah, Yeah!," Hit him harder, on the head!" and "Good job, Good job! ". How could Israeli pupils behave like that, when they had been constantly educated about the crucial importance of the Holocaust in Jewish history, how the Holocaust which fell upon the jewish people constitutes the ultimate, unquestionable justification for the creation of Israel and the establishment of the Israeli Defense Forces and the employment of the Israel Defense Forces as an iron fist mercilessly smiting any enemy who dares to stand up against us?

Indeed, there was one person who dared to draw far-reaching political conclusions. Dr. Ze'ev Degani, principal of the Herzliya Gymnasium, said: "This happened  because of the violence which one people uses against another. We should not be surprised that the violence turns back on us, that it cannot be kept somewhere else, in another field". Of course many people found his words annoying - in a sense, even more annoying than the pupils' behavior in itself. In fact, Degani's words were furiously rejected out of hand by a succession of commentators and officials, foremost among them Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar in person. The Minister took care to get things straight: Of course, there can be no connection between the behavior of rowdy pupils  and the presence of Israel in Judea and Samaria, the Land of Our Forefathers. It's time that leftists drop the bad habit of always talking about the occupation, and that the engage in education rather than in irrelevant political issues. Next time, the teachers should just take care to have a profound pedagogical preparation for attending this play, and they must maintain a stronger discipline over the pupils during the play itself. Then, such things will not happen again.

Well, this storm of controversy died down and was forgotten after two days, like all public turmoils in our country. And then came the Sixty Fourth  Independence Day of the State of Israel. And on the main news magazine in the state TV channel, the lady announcer told with playful good humor the events of this festive day, noting that in this year's Independence Day a special emphasis had been placed on increasing and strengthening the ties between Israel's citizens and their army, the Israeli Defense Forces. So as to help strengthen the motivation for military service which has weakened a bit in recent years - which might in future pose the Army some manpower problems. In token of which, army bases had been opened wide to the citizens - adults as well as children.

"For one day the children left their war toys at home and came to play with the real thing," said the newscaster with a smile on her face, replaced by the images captured that morning by the TV reporter covering the festive events. A girl, six or seven years old, filled the screen. She was sitting on top of a tank and turning round and round a machine gun, her finger on the trigger and with a bright smile aiming the barrel - which was as long as she was tall – at the indulgently smiling adults and at the other children who sat on the cannon of a neighboring tank.

The news bulletin ended with the voicing of some criticism: The announcer remarked indignantly that Israelis who had spent the day in various national parks left behind them a lot of garbage, a careless and negligent  behavior by any standards.

Shortly after this news broadcast was shown on state TV, there was somebody who found a slightly different way of celebrating Israel's sixty-fourth birthday. Namely, by going out into the night streets of the Shapira slum neighborhood, in South Tel Aviv, and hurling Molotov cocktails at the homes of refugees and asylum seekers and migrant workers, some of whom had fled to Israel under the threat of genocide in their African homelands. There were no casualties, but the apartments were burned with their meager contents, as was the small makeshift kindergarten set up by Africans for their children.

Residents of the neighborhood who were later interviewed in the media said they don't hold with throwing Molotov cocktails, but that it's time for the government to take action and deport all these Africans, as it is unacceptable to concentrate all the human garbage in one neighborhood. And the kindergarten will most probably not be restored any more, since even before the incendiary attacks there were neighbors who strongly objected to seeing so many black children inside their building. And on this, there was nothing to be heard from  the Minister of Education, as this had been an informal kindergarten, not part of the official education system of Israel, and many of the children in it anyway have an unclear legal status and might be deported from the country even before the end of the school year.

Certainly, there is no call to fault Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar for not giving attention to such trifles, when he is hard working on a thorough overhaul of the entire Israeli educational system, from kindergarten up to and including university. On all levels, the study of Jewish heritage must be strengthened and emphasized. For example, just last week the minister and his staff took care to remove from the curriculum a textbook in which heinous signs of post-Zionism had been detected. This book quotes extensively from the notorious  Goldstone Report... Moreover, it argued that a large part of immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union did not come to Israel for reasons of Zionism, but out of a simple wish to improve their standard of living.

All this was of course intolerable for the zealous minister. The book was phased out of use forthwith. Israeli pupils will no longer undergo leftist brainwashing, and the replacement textbook will make it clear that the Goldstone Report was a tissue of malicious lies and anti-Semitic propaganda against the world's most moral army.And of course, also that all Jews who come here from Russia (as well as all Russian Christians who also come here if they could show one Jewish grandparent) came only and solely because of the flame of Zionism pulsing in their hearts.

Indeed, Minister Sa'ar has his hands more than full. He is taking a lot of trouble and effort to upgrade the Ariel College, in the West Bank settlement of the same name, to full university status - despite the obstructions of the bastards on the Council for Higher Education. And he also spoke as the guest of honor in the conference of Im Tirzu, ("If you wish it"), a watchdog movement which set itself the task of rooting out and denouncing leftist and post-Zionist professors who managed to cunningly infiltrate university departments and faculties, especially at the notorious Ben Gurion University in Be'er Sheba.
For the high school pupils, the minister took care to arrange special tours of Hebron, City of the Patriarchs. Pupils are boarded buses with bullet-proof windows, going to Hebron and systematically move from one settler enclave at its heart to the next one. "The Settlement Project is based on the belief in our right over this land. From a young age I believed that settlers perform a vital mission and protect the people of Israel," said the honorable minister. Accordingly, pupils are told that the Tombs of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron are the Cradle of the Jewish Nation, that the Jewish people had looked up to Hebron for thousands of years, that in 1967 the city was at last restored to the Jews and that a happy new reality was created there with the arrival of the settlers.

One high school in Jerusalem had the audacity to initiate a slightly different plan of visiting Hebron. They met with Palestinian Hebronites and also heard the testimonies of soldiers from "Breaking the Silence" who had served in this city and had gone through not quite edifying experiences. Of course, the visit ended soon after it began, getting a quite hostile reception from settlers who were determined to expel the leftist pupils and their teachers. (True, it is not sure that even that sufficed to convey the message wanted by the Minister of Education...).

Even so, the leftists still did not despair, and published a letter signed by hundreds of teachers announcing their refusal to go with their pupils on the Hebron tours organized by the Education Minister. Michal Shkolnikov, who on this past Independence Day lighted one of the twelve torches at the alternative ceremony organized by the Yesh Gvul Movement, told of the buses full of teachers going to Hebron and watching the empty streets in the city's heart where it is forbidden for Palestinians to walk, and the empty stores which  Israeli soldiers prevent customers from reaching, and the walls covered profusely with graffiti calling to the expulsion and murder of Arabs. "We hear teachers express their shock, and say they did not know it was like that, and that they would not go with their pupils to visit the settlers there. And also school principals and Education Ministry supervisors tacitly support us, even if they can not say so publicly."

Meanwhile, Minister Sa'ar took another initiative: in order to strengthen the Jewish heritage and national values, the Ministry's Heritage Program was also extended to the kindergartens: children there were required to hoist the National Flag and sing the National Anthem at a weekly ceremony, and to learn by heart all the words of the anthem.

What happened in practice? Nothing happened. The kindergarten teachers did not formally organize and made no outspoken protest. They just ignored the Minister's directive, holding no ceremonies and hoisting no flags. "I did not do it because it seemed to me an annoying directive. There's a lot of other important values ​​to be instilled in the children," said R., a kindergarten teacher from Jerusalem.

And the minister? He just decided to make a tactical retreat. A new ministry directive canceled the obligation to teach the words of the anthem and stated that flag raising ceremonies will take place "only on special occasions".

It might do this country some good if the kindergarten teachers were to form their own party and run in the forthcoming elections. I would definitely consider voting for such a party.