Saar Denies 'Judaizing' Arabs

Education Minister Saar denies trying to 'Judaize' Israel's Arabs, as Arab leaders announce a strike.

Maayana Miskin ,

Arab schoolgirls in Israel
Arab schoolgirls in Israel
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Education Minister Gideon Saar played down recent changes to the primary school curriculum, in a meeting with students in Shfaram. Saar told the students that he has no plans to force anyone to sing the national anthem, and has “no intention of 'Judaizing' anyone.”

Students in grades 4-9 will study the Hebrew calendar and Israeli symbols such as the anthem and the flag, but will not be required to sing the anthem, Saar explained. The minister also told the students in the Israeli-Arab town that he would work to improve school buildings in the Arab, Druze and Bedouin sectors, and to close gaps in funding.

Arab-Israeli leaders were infuriated by reports that Saar planned to have all Israeli schools, including those in the Arab sector, teach students about Israel's national anthem, HaTikva. Members of the Supreme Arab Tracking Committee accused Israel of “attempted rape of [Arab] identity,” and threatened a rebellion if the plan were put into effect.

On Wednesday, the Committee announced it would hold a day-long strike in October in all Arab schools. Instead of attending class, they said, Arab pupils would commemorate the Arab citizens killed in violent clashes with Israeli police in October 2000. The initiative aims to strengthen Arab identity in response to Saar's plan to teach Zionism, they explained.

In a moment of bipartisan support, opposition leader Tzipi Livni criticized Saar's Arab detractors on Tuesday, accusing them of worsening life for Arabs in Israel. Groups such as the Supreme Arab Tracking Committee should promote coexistence, she said, including respect for Israeli symbols, instead of increasing Jewish-Arab segregation and tension.

Israel's national anthem, which speaks of the Jewish people's longing to return to its homeland, has long been a source of tension between the state and Israel's Arab community. Prominent Arab citizens, including athletes, politicians, and even a former minister, have made headlines for refusing to sing the anthem, saying it contradicts their Arab identity.

Raleb Majadele, who served as Minister of Culture and Sport under former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said those who demanded that he sing the anthem were saying he must “stop being an Arab, and turn into a member of a different religion and ethnicity.” Other Arab politicians backed Majadele, with one saying that Israel's government was trying to “erase our Palestinian identity by making us love the anthem.”