Politics and Education in Israel: Comparisons with the United States (Studies in Education/Politics)

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Research conducted in the last decade has shown that some of the ideas discussed by Levinson have already been taken up by many liberal democracies and included in their curricula. However, while liberal democracies continue to debate the acceptable degree of state intervention in the education process as well as the nature of the ideas taught and the methods of conveying them, the quandaries with which the non-liberal democracy must struggle are much more profound.

As illustrated in the introductory chapter, one of the main features of the non-liberal democracy is its adherence to the more formal meaning of the democratic idea. Democratic rules of the game are maintained, including free elections and multi-party competition but, at the same time, this form of government is distinct from liberal democracy. Conceptually, this is because non-liberal democracy places the interests of one group of citizens over those of other groups, encroaches upon the social sphere and restricts civil liberties.

The non-liberal democracy is therefore laden with numerous incongruities, and these are even more prominent in its education system. On the one hand, it will attempt to inculcate democratic values among its pupils, in particular the essentials it believes will prevent future citizens of the state from becoming enamoured with radical ideologies and anti-democratic ideas.

It will try to direct them towards action within legal political frameworks and, in that fashion, reduce the impact of the challenges it will inevitably face and, in consequence, be able to moderate its response to these elements. On the other hand, in the paramount importance invested in the national ideal and through the mobilisation of the dominant ethnic collective in the interests of the state there is the risk that, in the very cultivation of nationalist tendencies among the majority, ethno-nationalist seeds are planted which eventually may burgeon and ironically foster these same radical elements.

In the ensuing parts of this chapter, I attempt to examine how the State of Israel has contended with these paradoxes and, by the same token, try to find an answer to the paramount questions. However, this can be attributed to the non-democratic traditions among the majority of the Jewish population in Israel at the time. Many immigrant Jews came from Arabian, North African and Eastern European areas and, in the main, from countries which lacked democratic distinctions. The subject matter of such citizenship studies underscored the absolute right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, while disregarding the interests of local Arab residents or at the most revealing a patronising attitude towards them and depicting them as backward natives.

The insemination of ethno-national principles by means of the education system did not end with the Proclamation of Independence in Approximately four years later, the ethnic component attained formal status in the educational system. In paragraph 2 of the Statehood Education Act of , the intentions of the nascent State to subject the national education system to the interests of the nation-in-the-making were transparent. This policy was put into practice by performing a twofold weeding-out process, in both the general education programme and, in particular, in civic courses.

First civic studies was reduced to the formal procedural aspect of governmental institutions, and then the programme was marginalised in relation to other courses whose objective was, in part, to emphasise the ethnic spirit of the Israeli national ideal among Israeli students.

A review of the works of liberal scholars in a wide range of disciplines associated with civic studies reveals several subject categories. The leading category comprises the liberties espoused by democracy.

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The formal aspect of governmental or political proceedings and institutions comes some way down the list. Even when attempts were made to broach more substantial questions, such as the nature of Israeli citizenship, the non-existent constitution and the status of religion in relation to the State, the designers of the curricula and the matriculation exams in citizenship courses chose to focus upon the legislative procedural perspective instead of devoting an in-depth — not to speak of critical — discussion of their sum and substance.

In a quantitative content analysis of textbooks, including junior high and high school civics books from the s and s, empirical support for the preferred status of the formal element in the school curriculum was indicated by a significant disparity in favour of the procedural component over any other.

Figure 3. However, as noted earlier, it was not only textbooks that evidenced a focus on the formal aspect of Israeli politics. Bagrut Israeli matriculation exams on civics also reflected this tendency. Pupils were required to answer one of these three questions:. Nevertheless, it is qualified to empower other authorities to enact subsidiary legislation. Why does the Knesset confer its legislative authorities to other authorities? What are the types of subsidiary legislation? Specify two forms of accountability for this legislation.

Present two arguments in support of this position and two objections to it. Submit three examples of how the local government is accountable to the central government in Israel. Explain what is the difference between the composition of a national unity government and that of a coalition government in Israel.

Describe three parliamentary implements employed by the opposition in Israel. The complete reproduction of these questions is not intended to weary the reader but rather to present him or her with the picture in full. The formulation of these questions exemplifies how the compulsory element of the Bagrut exam in citizenship restricted the Israeli adolescent student to formal and, to a great degree, technical subjects found in the remote margins of Israeli political discourse. The precedence given to formal topics and the tendency of civic studies to avoid in-depth discussion of substantive issues were significantly sustained by the ongoing Arab—Israeli conflict.

The conflict was taught as an optional topic in civic studies but often from the narrow perspective of the national narrative. The three questions encountered by the Israeli student see below are an indication of how the Education Ministry in Israel could exclude substantial issues from the discussion on the cleavage between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority and in their place focus on the lesser aspects of the said cleavage. Describe three key changes in the Arab educational system and explain their causes.

What are the problems facing the Arab educational system in the s? Describe three principal changes in the Arab agricultural department and explain how the changes you have presented have had an effect on Arab society in Israel. What roles do Arab intellectuals fill in Arab society and how do they contribute to its advancement? Provide examples and explain three specific obstacles encountered by these intellectuals when filling these roles. An additional perusal of the questions gives the impression that they were written from a paternalistic and, to a certain degree, ethnocentric standpoint.

Bar-Tal found that although the delegitimisation of Arabs was indeed rare, textbooks presented them mostly in terms of negative stereotypes. Indeed, the reduction of civic studies to formal rudiments, as well as its detachment from social and political reality, considerably served the State in its attempts to instil in its future citizens the Conviction that Israel is, to all intents and purposes, a democratic state.

However, this policy also obscured the contradictions embedded in the political system and at the same time repressed the critical capacities of those citizens. Although it would be going too far to claim a causal relationship between the two, a study evaluating the attitudes of Israeli citizens regarding the quality of its democratic governmental system confirms the assumption that Israelis generally find little fault with the democratic nature of their State.

In response to more specific questions, e. These findings were replicated and found even more prominence over the issue of equal rights in Israel 61 per cent of Israelis claimed there were full equal rights in Israel in comparison to 22 per cent of immigrants. Yet, the State of Israel did not settle for the simple diminution of the contents of citizenship lessons, and another tactic was employed in the restriction and dilution of civic studies. As the next section demonstrates, the course was accorded a marginal status in comparison to other subjects, in particular those which reinforced the unity of the national identity.

Together with formal civics education, the Israeli education system made an effort to widely inculcate Zionist—Jewish values by means of subjects such as Bible studies, geography, Jewish history and Tushba Oral Law. This was because, unlike most other subjects, citizenship was not considered a discipline in itself requiring any special training. The findings of a survey administered to civic studies teachers indicated that despite their general willingness to teach more diverse subject matter, they themselves tended not to prefer universal values over national values.

An additional indication of the marginality of civic studies in comparison to other subjects was evident in the number of school hours accorded to this subject. In junior high school grades 7—9 , few schools list the subject on their course programme, despite the fact that a special curriculum has been designed for pupils of this age. In addition to the personal preferences of school principals, a reason for the omission of this subject is rooted in its non-enforcement by the Ministry of Education.

These tendencies reflected Ministry of Education policy, which has discouraged the exposure of pupils to potentially provocative and disputable issues. Therefore, the first genuine contact of schoolchildren with civic studies subject matter has tended to take place only in their final year of high school, the grade In that year, teachers are obligated to teach compulsory subjects for the matriculation exams, and, in consequence, devote all their time and energy to the instruction of the procedural aspects of the subject on which the exam has traditionally focused.

The marginality of civic studies is additionally underscored in the Bagrut certificate for the Israeli adolescent student. Despite being an apparently compulsory subject, civic studies is equal to only one learning unit in the matriculation certificate. In comparison, subjects such as Bible studies, Hebrew, composition and literature — courses that are dependable conduits for the dissemination of national values — all benefit from a minimum weighting of two compulsory learning units.

Translated into hours of instruction, this means that each of these subjects consists of a minimum of class hours, in contrast to 90 hours of citizenship lessons. Furthermore, the Ministry of Education gave adolescent students the option of extending each of these subjects up to five learning units class hours for the final exam while civic studies was restricted to its original single unit.

Time and again, objections regarding the peripheral status of civic studies in Israel have been directed to the Ministry of Education. Professor Emanuel Gutmann, who was chiefly responsible for the design of the course programme in citizenship studies, appealed in the early s to the Minister of Education and argued:. Citizenship courses have been assigned, according to the general school curricula, no more than 90 class hours out of all the years of high school education.

In the present programme, three subjects were taught in these 90 hours, each allotted 30 hours. The inevitable consequence was that in recent years, only two subjects in effect were taught, one requisite and one elective. The test of time has shown that this complaint, like numerous others tucked away in the Ministry of Education archives, was cordially acknowledged and then discarded in its dusty files.

To sum up, the above findings confirm that for many years, the Israeli pupil has been exposed to the subject of civics for a short period of time, and then only at a relatively late stage grade What instruction took place was of course delivered without a discussion of the middle on grey areas which might evoke questions with regard to the essence of a polity of this type. In all, the inevitable and telling by-product of these circumstances has been the weakening of the democratic quality of the State. Indeed, research conducted since the early s demonstrated that political extremism, ethnocentrism and a regression from democratic values are deep-seated among youth and adults alike in this country.

Comparative research further accentuates the extremist profile of certain sectors of Israeli society and reveals that adolescent Israeli students tend to score very highly on measures of ethnocentrism and authoritarianism in comparison to students abroad. Three pivotal events took place in Israeli political history during the s and s. Chronologically, the events are as follows.

First, there was the penetration of the Israeli Parliament by a racist party Kach ; later, the signing of the Oslo Agreements of ; and, more recently, the assassination in of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In retrospect, it appears that these events did in fact inspire planners of the education system to change its traditional approach and submit an extensive and new-fashioned plan of action.

The blueprint was built on shoring up democratic studies and a modification of civics course material in order to introduce the student to liberal democratic views principally, a comprehensive schooling on the concept of democracy with an emphasis on human rights and liberties as well as problematic and disputable issues a broad and critical discussion of the ethnic character of the Israeli democracy and the political expressions of the cleavages that cut across it.

However, the policy taken up by the State of Israel in respect of civic studies suffered from a lack of consistency. On the one hand, steps were indeed taken to bring about a broad and genuine change in civics education with the aim of strengthening a democratic liberal perspective. On the other, the non-liberal constraints on the State still prevented a smooth transition to a liberalised curriculum for civic studies and instead this process advanced quite unsteadily, punctuated by stops and starts and numerous diversions.

The inaugural efforts to liberalise civic studies can therefore be linked to the election of Rabbi Meir Kahane to the Israeli Parliament. Among the assortment of State responses, which have already been elaborated in preceding chapters, there was the undoubted influence of the Kahanist phenomenon on the chief executive body of the education system. In addition, the years and were declared years of democratic education. This second critical turning point was supposed to have led to the reform of school curricula.

The Oslo Agreements were to mark the passage from the belligerent past to a new era of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and, within this framework, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority were committed to altering their school curricula and removing all ethnocentric indications. Yigal Amir, graduate of the national religious education system, explained that he committed the murder out of the belief that not even a democratically elected government had the authority to make decisions which stood in stark contrast to the Jewish Halakha or the will of a sector of the nation.


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In spite of the significant public outcry that arose in the wake of these events and proclamations heralding a new direction in the curricula of civic studies, a retrospective analysis of the steps taken to translate words into action reveals many setbacks in the attempt to bring about substantial reformation in this area. Obstacles preventing the liberalisation of civic education due to the failings of the non-liberal democracy can be examined according to three principal levels of analysis: structural; policy-making; and policy implementation.

The inherent tension between the democratic and non-liberal components of this country could already be felt in the making of this decision. The called-for step was a broad reform of the civics education programme, entailing an increase in class hours and the replacement of formal subject matter with discussion of more substantive democratic principles. Still loath to abandon the ethnic, anti-liberal, character of Israeli democracy, the State opted for a more innovative agenda in democratic studies.

The course of formal instruction on citizenship remained in its traditional form and a complementary programme was initiated for teaching democratic values. Although the formal course of civics remained marginal in terms of class hours and resources, in relation to democratic studies it still enjoyed a clear advantage.

They preferred to devote all available school hours to matriculation subjects. In addition, not only was democratic studies assigned peripheral status, but the Division for Democracy and Coexistence DDC itself was considered a marginal body in the Ministry of Education and therefore a pawn in the hands of policy-makers. Shortly after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, elections were held in which the right-wing bloc, under the leadership of Benyamin Netanyahu, was victorious by a small margin. Zevulun Hammer, representative of the Mafdal, was appointed to the post of minister of education.

Hammer, in line with the traditional position of his party, maintained there was no justification for promoting the democratic aspects of civics education without a similar expansion of Jewish nationalist values. He therefore decided on the establishment of the Board for the Education of Values BEV whose objective was to be an umbrella framework for the agencies responsible for the cultivation of Jewish studies, along with the Division for Democracy and Coexistence. Once again, the quandary inherent to the non-liberal democracy reared its notorious head. A single directorate of the Ministry of Education became responsible for both reinforcing Jewish national identity as well as the assimilation of liberal values.

The practical implication was that these two conflicting initiatives now operated under the same organisational framework. The proposal states that the Board for the Education of Values financially supports ninety voluntary organisations involved in Jewish Zionist education on one hand and ninety voluntary bodies associated with democratic education on the other. However, the Board gives priority to those institutions which combine the two fields.

A close inspection of the proposal revealed that this type of body did not exist. Minister Levy decided to pare down the management and budget of the BEV, established by his predecessor. Levy understood the difficulty of running two segregated systems of instruction on similar subject matter, while only one of the two was anchored in the official course curriculum.

Corroboration provided by the civics education supervisor reinforces the view that the status of these two councils as extraneous to the education system minimised their effectiveness. In this case, despite the official intentions of the Ministry of Education to give priority to the liberal—universal aspect in relation to the non-liberal ethnic aspect, policy-makers with the final say ensured that civic studies continued in its traditional procedural form.

The initiative to elevate the standing of democratic studies with the formation of the DDC appeared to be a commendable venture but, in effect, it failed from the moment of its inception. The perspective of policy-making even more markedly reflects the symbiotic and inseparable connection that exists between the teaching of nationalist and democratic values in Israel.

It tried to learn the nature and roots of the problems in the civics curriculum and attempted to address the need for change in the instruction in political processes deemed responsible for instilling anti-liberal attitudes among pupils:. While the widespread public belief is that democracy is the government of the majority, the more liberal conception of democracy has not been sufficiently internalised, i. A noticeable weakness is in the lack of an internalisation of universalistic values detected, for example, in attitudes toward Arabs and ultra-orthodox, freedom of speech and the freedom of press … There is an aspiration toward a homogenous and harmonious society while, in actuality, it is necessary to cultivate an awareness of the diversity and pluralism of this society, the legitimacy of partaking in debate, the positive aspects of debate and the guidelines for settling conflicts based on a tolerant approach, while using peaceful and democratic ways.

In summation, the panel presented proposals for an extensive reform of civics education while granting a clear priority to liberal perceptions and, above all, individual rights over the rights of the Jewish collectivity. On the face of it, it seemed that this committee and its clear-cut policies indicated a consensus among Israeli policy-makers regarding the genuine necessity to liberalise civics education curricula.

However, reality proved otherwise. Four years earlier, in October , the minister of education at that time, Zevulun Hammer Mafdal , had nominated a committee with an almost identical composition, although the goal of this committee was to review the status of Jewish studies in state-run education. Furthermore, the Shinhar Committee, named after Professor Aliza Shinhar who was placed in charge, reinforced the status of four Jewish subjects in the matriculation exams and also introduced new subjects.

The BEV was assigned the role of applying the recommendations of both reports, a fact that only exacerbated the state of paradox characteristic of the Board. After the Board was dismantled, two supervisors from the Ministry of Education were placed in charge of implementing proposals. Today, these two share a single desk in the Ministry of Education in Jerusalem, which seems to be another symbolic illustration of the inability to distinguish between liberal and national objectives.

In point of fact, this same paradoxical picture was similarly repeated in the efforts to bring about structural change in the formal school civic studies curriculum. Beginning in the mids, then later on with the Kremnizer Report and the failure of the DDC, there is evidence of attempts at the revision of compulsory topics of the civic studies programme.

The Ministry of Education team responsible for this programme worked vigorously in order to present study curricula that would address the essence of social and political life in the State of Israel and, by the same token, demote the formal procedural aspect from its dominant position. An initial perusal of Being Citizens in Israel, the basis of the new curriculum and approved as the core textbook for the study of civics in the year , indeed presents an in-depth review of the substantial issues of the State of Israel.

However, a second, and more informed, scrutiny of the implementation of the curricular reform reveals otherwise. In contrast to what might be expected of a chapter with that title, much of it is devoted to the biblical pact drawn between Israel and G—d. Moreover, this text makes it quite clear that in the time of the prophets Ezra and Nehemiah the Jewish nation embraced the authority of the Oral Law as the standing constitution of the State and people of Israel.

However, this does not bring to an end the complexities of teaching civic studies in Israel in the new millennium. Apart from the difficulties created by the ideological hindrances noted above, reform also faced administrative obstacles. The new curriculum was supposed to include twice the number of civics class hours in order to provide enough time to teach all the subject matter of the programme in its new format.

The cutback in the number of hours required screening out many topics from the intended programme, and most of the eliminated subject matter unfortunately happened to touch upon essential concerns of the State: the cleavages of Israeli society and the status of the Arab minority; freedom of speech in a democratic society; and elections in Israel.

On the other hand, the formal aspect, provided by the chapter depicting the political system and governmental institutions, still enjoyed a central role in the new curriculum. This posed a problem because civics teachers, who, over the years, became accustomed to instructing in the formal aspect of the Israeli political system, preferred to stick to the course material with which they were familiar. In fact, in many cases, they felt comfortable enough to overlook the new and thornier issues such as the debate over the extent to which the State of Israel conforms to the definition of a democratic polity.

There are still further problems. A new curriculum, currently under discussion by the Ministry of Education, proposes that several subjects, including civic studies, should no longer be included in the school curriculum as required subjects for the matriculation exam.

According to the Ministry of Education supervisor responsible for the pedagogy of civics, this would lead to a situation where school principals would rather devote school hours to compulsory matriculation subjects than to allocate time to those subjects, such as civics, which no longer require a final exam. However, before presenting research findings, several theoretical issues pertaining to the relationship between instruction in citizenship and the internalisation of democratic values among students should be mentioned.

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From the early s, beginning with an intensive research involvement in the education in democratic concepts, two main schools of thought have made their mark. The conclusions of both schools relied on empirical findings. The first, more senior, school, whose prominent representatives include Langton and Jennings as well as Niemi and Sobieszek, posited that correlations between an education in citizenship and the espousal of political knowledge and democratic attitudes are marginal. Key 51 works which have, however, gained considerable reconfirmation in recent years , participation in citizenship courses, particularly in combination with additional factors such as an appropriate class atmosphere, is in fact found to be in positive correlation with the internalisation of democratic values.

Under the present circumstances, it would be pretentious to try to bring this controversy to a resolution. Rather, by relying on the most prominent approaches of the second school in the last few years, which posit that the teaching of democratic principles at school necessarily has the effect of consolidating more democratic values among pupils, this section seeks to assess the degree of influence of the new civic study programme on the attitudes of youth in Israel.

The research design devised for this purpose was based on sampling the adolescent student population and administering questionnaires to students in five state-run schools in northern Israel. The leading category comprises the liberties espoused by democracy. The formal aspect of governmental or political proceedings and institutions comes some way down the list. Even when attempts were made to broach more substantial questions, such as the nature of Israeli citizenship, the non-existent constitution and the status of religion in relation to the State, the designers of the curricula and the matriculation exams in citizenship courses chose to focus upon the legislative procedural perspective instead of devoting an in-depth — not to speak of critical — discussion of their sum and substance.

In a quantitative content analysis of textbooks, including junior high and high school civics books from the s and s, empirical support for the preferred status of the formal element in the school curriculum was indicated by a significant disparity in favour of the procedural component over any other. Figure 3. However, as noted earlier, it was not only textbooks that evidenced a focus on the formal aspect of Israeli politics.

Bagrut Israeli matriculation exams on civics also reflected this tendency. Pupils were required to answer one of these three questions:. Nevertheless, it is qualified to empower other authorities to enact subsidiary legislation. Why does the Knesset confer its legislative authorities to other authorities? What are the types of subsidiary legislation? Specify two forms of accountability for this legislation. Present two arguments in support of this position and two objections to it. Submit three examples of how the local government is accountable to the central government in Israel.

Explain what is the difference between the composition of a national unity government and that of a coalition government in Israel. Describe three parliamentary implements employed by the opposition in Israel. The complete reproduction of these questions is not intended to weary the reader but rather to present him or her with the picture in full. The formulation of these questions exemplifies how the compulsory element of the Bagrut exam in citizenship restricted the Israeli adolescent student to formal and, to a great degree, technical subjects found in the remote margins of Israeli political discourse.

The precedence given to formal topics and the tendency of civic studies to avoid in-depth discussion of substantive issues were significantly sustained by the ongoing Arab—Israeli conflict. The conflict was taught as an optional topic in civic studies but often from the narrow perspective of the national narrative. The three questions encountered by the Israeli student see below are an indication of how the Education Ministry in Israel could exclude substantial issues from the discussion on the cleavage between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority and in their place focus on the lesser aspects of the said cleavage.

Describe three key changes in the Arab educational system and explain their causes. What are the problems facing the Arab educational system in the s? Describe three principal changes in the Arab agricultural department and explain how the changes you have presented have had an effect on Arab society in Israel. What roles do Arab intellectuals fill in Arab society and how do they contribute to its advancement?

Provide examples and explain three specific obstacles encountered by these intellectuals when filling these roles. An additional perusal of the questions gives the impression that they were written from a paternalistic and, to a certain degree, ethnocentric standpoint. Bar-Tal found that although the delegitimisation of Arabs was indeed rare, textbooks presented them mostly in terms of negative stereotypes.

Impasse May Force 3rd Israeli Elections - 23.9.19 TV7 Israel News

Indeed, the reduction of civic studies to formal rudiments, as well as its detachment from social and political reality, considerably served the State in its attempts to instil in its future citizens the Conviction that Israel is, to all intents and purposes, a democratic state. However, this policy also obscured the contradictions embedded in the political system and at the same time repressed the critical capacities of those citizens. Although it would be going too far to claim a causal relationship between the two, a study evaluating the attitudes of Israeli citizens regarding the quality of its democratic governmental system confirms the assumption that Israelis generally find little fault with the democratic nature of their State.

In response to more specific questions, e. These findings were replicated and found even more prominence over the issue of equal rights in Israel 61 per cent of Israelis claimed there were full equal rights in Israel in comparison to 22 per cent of immigrants. Yet, the State of Israel did not settle for the simple diminution of the contents of citizenship lessons, and another tactic was employed in the restriction and dilution of civic studies.

As the next section demonstrates, the course was accorded a marginal status in comparison to other subjects, in particular those which reinforced the unity of the national identity. Together with formal civics education, the Israeli education system made an effort to widely inculcate Zionist—Jewish values by means of subjects such as Bible studies, geography, Jewish history and Tushba Oral Law. This was because, unlike most other subjects, citizenship was not considered a discipline in itself requiring any special training.

The findings of a survey administered to civic studies teachers indicated that despite their general willingness to teach more diverse subject matter, they themselves tended not to prefer universal values over national values. An additional indication of the marginality of civic studies in comparison to other subjects was evident in the number of school hours accorded to this subject. In junior high school grades 7—9 , few schools list the subject on their course programme, despite the fact that a special curriculum has been designed for pupils of this age.

In addition to the personal preferences of school principals, a reason for the omission of this subject is rooted in its non-enforcement by the Ministry of Education.


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These tendencies reflected Ministry of Education policy, which has discouraged the exposure of pupils to potentially provocative and disputable issues. Therefore, the first genuine contact of schoolchildren with civic studies subject matter has tended to take place only in their final year of high school, the grade In that year, teachers are obligated to teach compulsory subjects for the matriculation exams, and, in consequence, devote all their time and energy to the instruction of the procedural aspects of the subject on which the exam has traditionally focused.

The marginality of civic studies is additionally underscored in the Bagrut certificate for the Israeli adolescent student.

The Israeli response to extremism in: The Israeli response to Jewish extremism and violence

Despite being an apparently compulsory subject, civic studies is equal to only one learning unit in the matriculation certificate. In comparison, subjects such as Bible studies, Hebrew, composition and literature — courses that are dependable conduits for the dissemination of national values — all benefit from a minimum weighting of two compulsory learning units.

Translated into hours of instruction, this means that each of these subjects consists of a minimum of class hours, in contrast to 90 hours of citizenship lessons. Furthermore, the Ministry of Education gave adolescent students the option of extending each of these subjects up to five learning units class hours for the final exam while civic studies was restricted to its original single unit. Time and again, objections regarding the peripheral status of civic studies in Israel have been directed to the Ministry of Education.

Professor Emanuel Gutmann, who was chiefly responsible for the design of the course programme in citizenship studies, appealed in the early s to the Minister of Education and argued:. Citizenship courses have been assigned, according to the general school curricula, no more than 90 class hours out of all the years of high school education.

In the present programme, three subjects were taught in these 90 hours, each allotted 30 hours. The inevitable consequence was that in recent years, only two subjects in effect were taught, one requisite and one elective. The test of time has shown that this complaint, like numerous others tucked away in the Ministry of Education archives, was cordially acknowledged and then discarded in its dusty files.

To sum up, the above findings confirm that for many years, the Israeli pupil has been exposed to the subject of civics for a short period of time, and then only at a relatively late stage grade What instruction took place was of course delivered without a discussion of the middle on grey areas which might evoke questions with regard to the essence of a polity of this type. In all, the inevitable and telling by-product of these circumstances has been the weakening of the democratic quality of the State. Indeed, research conducted since the early s demonstrated that political extremism, ethnocentrism and a regression from democratic values are deep-seated among youth and adults alike in this country.

Comparative research further accentuates the extremist profile of certain sectors of Israeli society and reveals that adolescent Israeli students tend to score very highly on measures of ethnocentrism and authoritarianism in comparison to students abroad. Three pivotal events took place in Israeli political history during the s and s. Chronologically, the events are as follows.

Politics and Education in Israel: Comparisons with the United States

First, there was the penetration of the Israeli Parliament by a racist party Kach ; later, the signing of the Oslo Agreements of ; and, more recently, the assassination in of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In retrospect, it appears that these events did in fact inspire planners of the education system to change its traditional approach and submit an extensive and new-fashioned plan of action. The blueprint was built on shoring up democratic studies and a modification of civics course material in order to introduce the student to liberal democratic views principally, a comprehensive schooling on the concept of democracy with an emphasis on human rights and liberties as well as problematic and disputable issues a broad and critical discussion of the ethnic character of the Israeli democracy and the political expressions of the cleavages that cut across it.

However, the policy taken up by the State of Israel in respect of civic studies suffered from a lack of consistency. On the one hand, steps were indeed taken to bring about a broad and genuine change in civics education with the aim of strengthening a democratic liberal perspective. On the other, the non-liberal constraints on the State still prevented a smooth transition to a liberalised curriculum for civic studies and instead this process advanced quite unsteadily, punctuated by stops and starts and numerous diversions. The inaugural efforts to liberalise civic studies can therefore be linked to the election of Rabbi Meir Kahane to the Israeli Parliament.

Among the assortment of State responses, which have already been elaborated in preceding chapters, there was the undoubted influence of the Kahanist phenomenon on the chief executive body of the education system. In addition, the years and were declared years of democratic education. This second critical turning point was supposed to have led to the reform of school curricula. The Oslo Agreements were to mark the passage from the belligerent past to a new era of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and, within this framework, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority were committed to altering their school curricula and removing all ethnocentric indications.

Yigal Amir, graduate of the national religious education system, explained that he committed the murder out of the belief that not even a democratically elected government had the authority to make decisions which stood in stark contrast to the Jewish Halakha or the will of a sector of the nation. In spite of the significant public outcry that arose in the wake of these events and proclamations heralding a new direction in the curricula of civic studies, a retrospective analysis of the steps taken to translate words into action reveals many setbacks in the attempt to bring about substantial reformation in this area.

Obstacles preventing the liberalisation of civic education due to the failings of the non-liberal democracy can be examined according to three principal levels of analysis: structural; policy-making; and policy implementation. The inherent tension between the democratic and non-liberal components of this country could already be felt in the making of this decision.

The called-for step was a broad reform of the civics education programme, entailing an increase in class hours and the replacement of formal subject matter with discussion of more substantive democratic principles. Still loath to abandon the ethnic, anti-liberal, character of Israeli democracy, the State opted for a more innovative agenda in democratic studies. The course of formal instruction on citizenship remained in its traditional form and a complementary programme was initiated for teaching democratic values.

Although the formal course of civics remained marginal in terms of class hours and resources, in relation to democratic studies it still enjoyed a clear advantage. They preferred to devote all available school hours to matriculation subjects. In addition, not only was democratic studies assigned peripheral status, but the Division for Democracy and Coexistence DDC itself was considered a marginal body in the Ministry of Education and therefore a pawn in the hands of policy-makers.

Shortly after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, elections were held in which the right-wing bloc, under the leadership of Benyamin Netanyahu, was victorious by a small margin. Zevulun Hammer, representative of the Mafdal, was appointed to the post of minister of education. Hammer, in line with the traditional position of his party, maintained there was no justification for promoting the democratic aspects of civics education without a similar expansion of Jewish nationalist values. He therefore decided on the establishment of the Board for the Education of Values BEV whose objective was to be an umbrella framework for the agencies responsible for the cultivation of Jewish studies, along with the Division for Democracy and Coexistence.

Once again, the quandary inherent to the non-liberal democracy reared its notorious head. A single directorate of the Ministry of Education became responsible for both reinforcing Jewish national identity as well as the assimilation of liberal values. The practical implication was that these two conflicting initiatives now operated under the same organisational framework.

The proposal states that the Board for the Education of Values financially supports ninety voluntary organisations involved in Jewish Zionist education on one hand and ninety voluntary bodies associated with democratic education on the other. However, the Board gives priority to those institutions which combine the two fields. A close inspection of the proposal revealed that this type of body did not exist. Minister Levy decided to pare down the management and budget of the BEV, established by his predecessor. Levy understood the difficulty of running two segregated systems of instruction on similar subject matter, while only one of the two was anchored in the official course curriculum.

Corroboration provided by the civics education supervisor reinforces the view that the status of these two councils as extraneous to the education system minimised their effectiveness. In this case, despite the official intentions of the Ministry of Education to give priority to the liberal—universal aspect in relation to the non-liberal ethnic aspect, policy-makers with the final say ensured that civic studies continued in its traditional procedural form.

The initiative to elevate the standing of democratic studies with the formation of the DDC appeared to be a commendable venture but, in effect, it failed from the moment of its inception. The perspective of policy-making even more markedly reflects the symbiotic and inseparable connection that exists between the teaching of nationalist and democratic values in Israel. It tried to learn the nature and roots of the problems in the civics curriculum and attempted to address the need for change in the instruction in political processes deemed responsible for instilling anti-liberal attitudes among pupils:.

While the widespread public belief is that democracy is the government of the majority, the more liberal conception of democracy has not been sufficiently internalised, i. A noticeable weakness is in the lack of an internalisation of universalistic values detected, for example, in attitudes toward Arabs and ultra-orthodox, freedom of speech and the freedom of press … There is an aspiration toward a homogenous and harmonious society while, in actuality, it is necessary to cultivate an awareness of the diversity and pluralism of this society, the legitimacy of partaking in debate, the positive aspects of debate and the guidelines for settling conflicts based on a tolerant approach, while using peaceful and democratic ways.

In summation, the panel presented proposals for an extensive reform of civics education while granting a clear priority to liberal perceptions and, above all, individual rights over the rights of the Jewish collectivity. On the face of it, it seemed that this committee and its clear-cut policies indicated a consensus among Israeli policy-makers regarding the genuine necessity to liberalise civics education curricula.

However, reality proved otherwise. Four years earlier, in October , the minister of education at that time, Zevulun Hammer Mafdal , had nominated a committee with an almost identical composition, although the goal of this committee was to review the status of Jewish studies in state-run education.

Furthermore, the Shinhar Committee, named after Professor Aliza Shinhar who was placed in charge, reinforced the status of four Jewish subjects in the matriculation exams and also introduced new subjects. The BEV was assigned the role of applying the recommendations of both reports, a fact that only exacerbated the state of paradox characteristic of the Board. After the Board was dismantled, two supervisors from the Ministry of Education were placed in charge of implementing proposals.

Today, these two share a single desk in the Ministry of Education in Jerusalem, which seems to be another symbolic illustration of the inability to distinguish between liberal and national objectives. In point of fact, this same paradoxical picture was similarly repeated in the efforts to bring about structural change in the formal school civic studies curriculum.

Beginning in the mids, then later on with the Kremnizer Report and the failure of the DDC, there is evidence of attempts at the revision of compulsory topics of the civic studies programme. The Ministry of Education team responsible for this programme worked vigorously in order to present study curricula that would address the essence of social and political life in the State of Israel and, by the same token, demote the formal procedural aspect from its dominant position.

An initial perusal of Being Citizens in Israel, the basis of the new curriculum and approved as the core textbook for the study of civics in the year , indeed presents an in-depth review of the substantial issues of the State of Israel. However, a second, and more informed, scrutiny of the implementation of the curricular reform reveals otherwise. In contrast to what might be expected of a chapter with that title, much of it is devoted to the biblical pact drawn between Israel and G—d.

Moreover, this text makes it quite clear that in the time of the prophets Ezra and Nehemiah the Jewish nation embraced the authority of the Oral Law as the standing constitution of the State and people of Israel. However, this does not bring to an end the complexities of teaching civic studies in Israel in the new millennium.

Apart from the difficulties created by the ideological hindrances noted above, reform also faced administrative obstacles. The new curriculum was supposed to include twice the number of civics class hours in order to provide enough time to teach all the subject matter of the programme in its new format. The cutback in the number of hours required screening out many topics from the intended programme, and most of the eliminated subject matter unfortunately happened to touch upon essential concerns of the State: the cleavages of Israeli society and the status of the Arab minority; freedom of speech in a democratic society; and elections in Israel.

On the other hand, the formal aspect, provided by the chapter depicting the political system and governmental institutions, still enjoyed a central role in the new curriculum. This posed a problem because civics teachers, who, over the years, became accustomed to instructing in the formal aspect of the Israeli political system, preferred to stick to the course material with which they were familiar. In fact, in many cases, they felt comfortable enough to overlook the new and thornier issues such as the debate over the extent to which the State of Israel conforms to the definition of a democratic polity.

There are still further problems. A new curriculum, currently under discussion by the Ministry of Education, proposes that several subjects, including civic studies, should no longer be included in the school curriculum as required subjects for the matriculation exam. According to the Ministry of Education supervisor responsible for the pedagogy of civics, this would lead to a situation where school principals would rather devote school hours to compulsory matriculation subjects than to allocate time to those subjects, such as civics, which no longer require a final exam.

However, before presenting research findings, several theoretical issues pertaining to the relationship between instruction in citizenship and the internalisation of democratic values among students should be mentioned. From the early s, beginning with an intensive research involvement in the education in democratic concepts, two main schools of thought have made their mark. The conclusions of both schools relied on empirical findings. The first, more senior, school, whose prominent representatives include Langton and Jennings as well as Niemi and Sobieszek, posited that correlations between an education in citizenship and the espousal of political knowledge and democratic attitudes are marginal.

Key 51 works which have, however, gained considerable reconfirmation in recent years , participation in citizenship courses, particularly in combination with additional factors such as an appropriate class atmosphere, is in fact found to be in positive correlation with the internalisation of democratic values. Under the present circumstances, it would be pretentious to try to bring this controversy to a resolution. Rather, by relying on the most prominent approaches of the second school in the last few years, which posit that the teaching of democratic principles at school necessarily has the effect of consolidating more democratic values among pupils, this section seeks to assess the degree of influence of the new civic study programme on the attitudes of youth in Israel.

The research design devised for this purpose was based on sampling the adolescent student population and administering questionnaires to students in five state-run schools in northern Israel. The sample was made up of two groups. The first group consisted of grade 12 students students in their last year at high school, aged 17—18 who studied civics in their last year of school according to the new curriculum. These students constituted The second group consisted of grade 11 students aged 16—17 who had not yet been exposed to civics courses at high school.

Questionnaires were distributed during March The aim of the research was to examine the effects of an education in democratic principles on the complex of perceptions associated with political and democratic issues, while conducting a comparison between the two groups. In order to minimise the effect of intervening variables, particularly socio-demographic variables, an attempt was made to ensure, while selecting the sample, representation of the various population sectors. Accordingly, the sample included boys While this study included one independent variable that of exposure to civic studies, which distinguished between the two groups , there were five dependent variables in this study:.

And with the aid of the fifth variable, political knowledge, an attempt was made to focus the debate and examine which features of Israeli politics the Ministry of Education was successful in inculcating among its students. Was it knowledge related to the formal and technical aspects of the political system typical of past curricula, or was there also a familiarity with events in the system itself and Israeli political figures?

Table 3. With regard to all aspects of the democratic orientation items, it appears that students from both groups are inclined to express high support for the statements. However, upon closer inspection, the numbers reveal two interesting findings. The first pertains to the fact that most students, both those who did and did not study civics 87 per cent and 85 per cent, respectively , perceived political action as unnecessary when decision-making is believed to be in the hands of a competent leadership.

Granted, among both groups there was relatively high support for this statement; still, the gap in favour of those who participated in civics lessons is quite significant A review of the items constituting the measure of political cynicism demonstrates a reverse tendency of the above. Unexpectedly, not only did both groups express high levels of political cynicism, the level of cynicism on behalf of the civics group was consistently higher than that expressed by those who did not take the course. Although no significant correlations were found between the study of civics variable and these items, according to the descriptive data it is still possible to conclude with some caution that if participating in civics education has any effect on students, it only leads to an increase in cynicism with regard to the political system.