MKs Demand: Get Naqba Out of Our Textbooks!

Busy Knesset Education Committee session: Teachers' strike, unpatriotic curriculum - and an unexpected possible solution to the university strike.

Hillel Fendel ,

school strike - 3.5 weeks old
school strike - 3.5 weeks old

The Knesset Education Committee had a busy day Monday.  It debated the ongoing teachers' strike, called upon the Education Ministry to change textbooks that blame Israel for the 1948 refugees, and may even have come up with a solution to the university lecturers' strike.

As the striking secondary school teachers await the Labor Court's decision Monday afternoon as to whether or not to order them back to work, Irgun Teachers Union head Ran Erez outlined for the Knesset Education Committee his position: "The situation of education in Israel is terrible; we can all agree on that. This is not just a struggle for salaries; we are fighting for fewer students in each class, and the restoration of school hours to Israel's children... There is no reason why the State of Israel, which is not currently in economic straits, should not invest in education."

A Finance Ministry official told the Committee that his office's request for Labor Court intervention was made "because we are having problems conducting negotiations with the Irgun, and so we asked the court to help us out."  The teachers union chief Erez said in response that the official was "brazenly lying," and that "we are interested in reaching an agreement."

At least 1,000 of the 34,000 striking teachers have threatened to quit their jobs if the Labor Court issues them back-to-work orders.  "One cannot teach under duress," they say.

University Breakthrough
A dramatic breakthrough appeared to have occurred during the committee session regarding the university lecturers' strike.  A representative of the Senior Academic Staff addressed Education Minister Yuli Tamir and outlined the lecturers' fundamental demands - to which Tamir responded, "I can sign on that right here and now."  MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) then volunteered to mediate, and began shuffling back and forth between Tamir and the relevant professors.  The negotiations then continued outside the room, and may hopefully lead to a resolution of the strike sooner than expected.

How to Teach Israeli-Arabs - and Jews
Another item on the Education Committee's agenda was the inclusion of the Naqba - the Arab view of Israel's independence as a national Arab tragedy - in Israeli-Arab textbooks.  Education Minister Yuli Tamir, a founder of the extreme left-wing Peace Now organization, has said that this is an important and welcome development.  The committee voted 6-1 (Arab MK Muhammed Barakeh was in the minority) to call upon the Education Ministry's Pedagogic Council to rectify this.

However, MK Ze'ev Elkin (Kadima) said that even more problematic was the fact that Israel's official educational curriculum states that Israel bears responsibility for the expulsion of Arabs in 1948.  "It's not only just the mention of the Naqba in textbooks," MK Elkin later told Arutz-7, "but much worse: the official Social Studies curriculum for 2nd-to-4th grades states that Israel's victory led to the expulsion of Arabs from their towns or to other lands.  This was a curriculum that was initiated when [extreme left-wing MK] Yossi Sarid was Education Minister, but it was approved under [the Likud's] Limor Livnat!"

The Committee resolved as follows: "It is unfortunate the Education Minister Yuli Tamir sees fit to promote a personal, extremist agenda by including the Naqba in Arab textbooks.  The Education Committee totally repudiates the presentation in Israel's textbooks of both perspectives of the War of Independence, the establishment of the State, and the related circumstances.  Presenting the establishment of the State of Israel as a catastrophe in our textbooks is scandalous and unacceptable... It will contribute to the distancing of the Arab public from the State, and harms co-existence."

At MK Elkin's request, the resolution also stated: "The Committee views gravely the approval of Israel's official curriculum which relates to Israel's responsibility for the expulsion of Arabs in 1947-8 and their becoming refugees.  We demand that the Pedagogic Council reconsider these clauses."

Elkin told Arutz-7 that he did not expect the current Pedagogic Council head, who was appointed by Minister Tamir, to change the curriculum.

MK Zevulun Orlev (National Religious Party) said during the session, "If we give legitimacy to the idea of the Naqba, we will legitimize Israeli-Arabs becoming disloyal citizens of Israel.  Textbooks represent the State's outlook."

Chaim Weizmann
The Committee also heard from several public figures, including Oslo-agreement co-architect Ron Pundak, about the need to include the legacy of Israel's first president, Chaim Weizmann, in the plans to commemorate Israel's 60th anniversary this coming year.