Michal Barak
Senior Fellow, Education and Citizenship
18.09.2013 by Michal Barak
18.09.2013 Research

Towards the Revitalization of Civics

As Minister of Education, Gideon Sa'ar politicized the Israeli education system, bringing justifications for Zionist nationalism into the civics curriculum, forcing pupils to face a rigid dichotomy of national-Jewish identity versus democratic-Israeli identity. This report rethinks the Israeli civics curriculum to allow students to grapple with Israel's complex reality

During his four years as Minister of Education, Gideon Sa’ar led an unprecedented process of politicization of the Israeli education system. Inter alia, Sa’ar turned the study of civics into a political battleground. Dr. Zvi Zameret, Sa’ar’s appointee to chair the pedagogical secretariat, was his instrument in making these changes. Zameret was responsible for failing to renew the appointment of the civics supervisor at the Ministry of Education, replacing the members of the civics curriculum committee and directing the re-writing of the curriculum.

In recent years, education about democracy, or civic education, has come to be identified with the left, and thus has been marked as an arena for political struggle. Zameret’s new curriculum reflects this, and introduces a discussion that goes well beyond the scope of civics. It focuses heavily on the justifications for a Jewish nation state, with a special focus on boosting national pride and fostering identification with the Zionist project.

In this way, civics has become yet another branch of history, Bible and geography studies, abandoning its original purpose: to introduce students to the democratic mechanisms upon which their state is founded and to encourage independent and critical thinking about the way these mechanisms function.

The new curriculum reflects a deep fear that students’ national-Zionist identity is eroding, and sends the mistaken and problematic message to Israeli youth that there is a fundamental contradiction between the state’s national character and the democratic system of government. This approach forces pupils to face a rigid dichotomy of national-Jewish identity versus democratic-Israeli identity, and worse, choose one or the other.

This dangerous dichotomous worldview makes the study of civics superficial, abandons the emphasis on critical thinking, downplays the importance of learning about Israel’s minorities and — most egregiously — frees the students from contending with the complexity of the reality in Israel.  

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