Education Minister Yuli Tamir has been much in the news. Two weeks ago she went on a well-publicized visit to authoritarian Singapore to learn the secret of its school system's success.
Tamir summed up her visit in an interview with Yediot Aharonot, saying, "What most entranced me about [Singaporean schoolchildren] was that while there is discipline, it doesn't look like repression. I didn't see fear in the children's eyes."
It makes sense that this would be the aspect of Singapore's education system that most impressed Tamir. Her moves back home are all aimed at foisting her political agenda on schoolchildren while blocking all forms of dissent. Dissent, after all, could make her agenda appear repressive.
Tamir's political agenda has been alternately described as pro-peace, anti-Zionist, pro-democracy, anti-democracy, pluralistic and anti-Semitic.
To understand what her agenda actually holds in store for our future, we need to move beyond labels and assess her policies themselves.
Last December, Tamir ordered that from now on, all maps of the country in new textbooks must clearly demark the 1949 armistice lines. As Tamir sees it, the demarcation of the 1949 armistice lines is crucial for advancing peace. Speaking to Ha'aretz, she said, "We cannot demand that our Arab neighbors mark the borders from 4 June 1967, when our own Education Ministry has erased them from the textbooks and from the students' consciousness."
SINCE ISRAEL has applied its laws to the entirety of unified Jerusalem and to the Golan Heights, it is clear that the reason they don't appear in school textbooks is because they are irrelevant to the study of Israel's borders. Aside from that, when the cease-fire lines were drawn, neither Israel nor any of its neighbors accepted them as borders and, moreover, in the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, those lines did not serve as the basis for determining the borders between them. And so, not only does her move ignore Israel's own determination of its sovereignty, it also ignores historical fact.
As one of the founders of the EU-funded radical Peace Now movement, Tamir opposes all Israeli building beyond the 1949 lines. Her animus was given expression this month with the Council for Higher Education of Judea and Samaria's decision to upgrade Ariel College to the status of university center. Immediately after the institute, which confers bachelor's and master's degrees on its 8,500 students, changed its name to the Ariel University Center of Samaria, Tamir pledged to cut off its government funding and to ignore any correspondence with the institution if it referred to itself as a university center.
The Ariel University Center of Samaria's location is not Tamir's only beef with it. Its overt Zionism also sets her off. The school requires all its students to take one course per semester in either Jewish- or Zionist-related subjects. It also requires that the national flag be displayed in all classrooms.
THESE POLICIES fly in the face of Tamir's efforts to suppress Zionist and Jewish education.
This month she supported the Finance Ministry's decision to cut the government's support for pre-army leadership academies by 50 percent. Students at these academies receive a year-long deferment of their military service. During that year they study Jewish history, Zionist history and Talmud. They volunteer for community service. They undergo pre-military physical fitness regimens, and they hike throughout the country. Seventy percent of graduates serve in combat units and 30% become officers. Among the girls, the majority serve as officers.
In short, in the space of a year, the pre-army academies imbue their students with their Jewish and Israeli heritage and the students, in turn, form the backbone of the IDF's combat soldier and officer corps. And Tamir has decided to slash their budgets.
As to the general school system, Tamir is advancing a plan to cut the course load by 30% over the next five years. History and Zionist education will be the areas most immediately affected. As she put it, "Rather than learn a lot of material – we'll learn thinking.Today it is important to process information, not memorize things."
ON SUNDAY, Yediot reported that as part of her plan to limit the materials and control the content of the lessons taught to students, Tamir is moving against Jewish and Zionist studies teachers who teach in the framework of their National Service. Most of the teachers in National Service are Orthodox teenage girls. Due to their religious observance, most Orthodox girls opt to do national service rather than serve in the military.
According to the report, and subsequent follow-ups, Tamir has decided to cut the number of Orthodox teenagers employed through National Service institutions as Jewish and Zionist studies teachers in elementary schools by 50%. As Education Ministry officials put it to Yediot, the girls are "too right-wing," and so they must be removed from classrooms lest they infect schoolchildren with their commitment to the state and to Jewish heritage.
In silencing dissenting voices, Tamir has not been shy about being ruthless.
Take the example of Rabbi Yisrael Shiran. In 2000, when Tamir was serving as tourism minister, Shiran worked as a Jewish studies teacher at the Moriah national religious school in Haifa. He raised Tamir's hackles when he refused an Education Ministry directive to teach slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin's "legacy" of the Oslo peace process with the PLO in the framework of his lesson plans for commemorating his murder. As Shiran saw it, Oslo was controversial, and so it couldn't simply be taught in a positive light. Tamir moved to have him fired. Shiran petitioned the High Court of Justice, and she relented.
In 2002, he transferred to another school. Now the parents at Moriah want him back. But Tamir is refusing to approve his transfer. Just to teach him a lesson.
TAMIR WISHES to replace Zionism and Jewish studies with "democratic citizenship" studies. As she explained to Yediot, "In Israel there is a real lack of democratic citizenship studies. As I pledged, the school system is moving this year to teach the subject of citizenship at a level of two credit units [for the high school matriculation exams]. In the future we will continue to expand citizenship classes to the level of three, four and five credits. People aren't born citizens. They are educated to be citizens."
In Tamir's view, a good citizen is one who gives equal weight to both Israel's actual history and to the Arab world's distorted version of that history. Last month, she approved a third-grade textbook for Arab Israelis that teaches children that Arabs view the 1948 War of Independence, in which the infant state warded off the invading armies of five Arab states determined to annihilate its Jewish population, as "the nakba," or catastrophe.
Arab Israeli children will now be taught that from the Arab perspective, Israel's establishment was an act of Jewish aggression. And as Tamir sees it, "I also think it is important for Jewish children to learn about the nakba."
IN HER latest gambit, this week Tamir informed Israeli Islamic Movement leader and MK Ibrahim Sarsour that she will seriously consider his request to make Islamic religion and culture a required subject for Israeli Arabs. While here too, Tamir's move is clearly aimed at advancing the distorted Arab narrative in the interest of promoting her vision of good "citizenship," the fact is that Sarsour does not share her goal of promoting a multicultural Israel.
In February 2006, reacting to Hamas'
;s victory in the Palestinian Authority elections the previous month, Sarsour declared that the Israeli Arab public supports the Palestinian and global jihad forces working to destroy Israel and conquer the Western world.
In his words, "The entire Arab public, but especially the Muslim public, is in the crosshairs. It is the target of global attack. As the Islamic Movement, we wish to see establishment of the Islamic caliphate without borders, and this is what scares the West."
This March, speaking at a conference on Jerusalem in Ramallah, Sarsour called on the Palestinians to conquer Israel's capital city. "Just as the Muslims once liberated Jerusalem from the Crusaders, so must we today believe we can liberate Jerusalem. It is not an impossible dream," he said.
Given Sarsour's objective of destroying the State of Israel, Tamir's willingness to consider his demands means that she supports the indoctrination of Arab Israelis to work toward the destruction of the state as a whole. When taken together with her war against Zionist and Jewish education, educators and institutions, it is clear that not only does Tamir's vision involve indoctrinating Israel's Arabs to become its enemies; it also involves indoctrinating (without repression) a new generation of Israelis in a manner that will render them defenseless in the face of the Arab onslaught against the country.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.