On June 1, 2016, a new circular was published by the director-general of the Education Ministry with updated instructions regarding youth missions going abroad under the auspices of the ministry. The age of the participants in such missions is 14-18.
One of the changes introduced in the recent circular is that now all youths joining such missions – whether official national missions or educational/representational missions – must participate in a preparatory on-line official hasbara (i.e. propaganda) course. Approval for participation in the missions is conditioned on successfully passing a test on the material learned in the course, in which most of the questions are multiple-choice and there is only one “correct” answer.
This is a legitimate method when there are absolute answers to the questions asked, such as the date on which the Six Day War broke out, or the formula for nitrogen. It is not a legitimate method when the questions relates to issues on which there are different points of view, based on different values, ideologies and life experience.
From time immemorial the participants in all formal missions under state auspices (including Knesset members) have received briefings from Foreign Ministry officials on Israel’s official positions on a variety of issues, in addition to security briefings. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this practice. The problem starts when such briefings include elements of ideological indoctrination, and approval of mission participation is conditioned on the parrot-like repetition of official positions that are not in consensus.
The opening remarks to the on-line course are presented, on video, by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, and his ideology is reflected throughout the course, even if not presented explicitly – such as that the Jews have a right to settle in the whole of biblical Israel, and to annex the territories occupied during the Six Day War (all on the basis of the Old Testament), and that all criticism of Israel emanates from antisemitism, a desire to destroy the State of Israel as a Jewish state, or treachery (i.e. there can be no legitimate criticism of Israel and its actions).
Of course, Bennett has an absolute right to hold whatever ideology he may wish, and most of the current Israeli government might hold similar views.
However, more than half the population of Israel does not, and their children grow up on a different set of beliefs and values, such as (in the case of Jews) that even though the Jews are intrinsically linked to Israel, and are not foreign to it, the State of Israel owes its existence to a series of international declarations such as the Balfour Declarations, and the UN Partition Plan, attained through laborious and judicious diplomacy by the Zionist leaders in the pre-state era, and not to an alleged promise given by the Almighty to the patriarch Abraham and recorded in the Bible by anonymous writers, with or without divine inspiration.
Most Arab children in Israel (about 20% of the total number of children holding Israeli citizenship) grow up to believe that Israel is a fact that must be contended with, but that the establishment of the Jewish state resulted in a Palestinian tragedy, known as the Nakba, and since its establishment Israel has systematically discriminated its Arab citizens, while denying the rights of the Palestinian population living in the West Bank, which it occupied in 1967.
So what can Jewish youths, who were born to liberal and left-wing families, and Arab youths do in order to be allowed to participate in official youth missions? Their only choice is to give the “correct” answers in the tests, even if this means that they are betraying their true beliefs. A lesson in cynicism and/or opportunism.
This is not something that should happen in a democracy. An Arab youth who excels in mathematics should not have to recite what Bennett believes in a parrot-like manner in order to be allowed to participate in an international competition in mathematics.
What is worrying is that this seemingly minor measure is symptomatic of a general trend that is slowly delegitimizing the premises of liberal Zionism.
The likes of me are still being tolerated, and we are still being allowed to express our views freely. However, more and more legislation is being passed in the Knesset that seeks to curtail this freedom. In my eyes the red line will be crossed on the day that the satirical TV shows Eretz Nehederet (Wonderful Country), and Gav Ha’Uma (Back of the Nation) will be forced off the air – and I say this despite the fact I frequently find items on both shows to be in poor taste.
It would be nice if the previous director-general circular on youth missions abroad were reinstated, and the labeling of human rights activists as enemies of the state was simply dropped. But the coalition seems to be wobbling, and no one has time for such “nonsense.”
Apropo Gav Ha’Uma, on the show broadcast on Saturday night, MK Miki Zohar (Likud) appeared (he invited himself), after he had been viciously mocked the previous week for a program he presented for annexing Judea and Samaria, and granting 2.5 million Palestinians “full” political rights, but excluding the right to vote.
Though I don’t think Zohar redeemed himself (he exchanged punch lines with the Gav Ha’Uma team), he nevertheless deserves a nod for the guts he showed, and for taking the show seriously enough to face his tormentors head on.