The one good thing the next government could accomplish

If Yair Lapid’s party takes over the Education Ministry, it could bring an end to the Greater-Israelization of the country’s schools and universities.

The one good thing the next government could accomplish
Yair Lapid with “Yesh Atid” activists (photo: Yotam Ronen /

After 45 years of occupation and no end in sight, it would be better for Israel to have a completely right-wing/ultra-Orthodox government than a right-wing/centrist one with Yair Lapid, Kadima and possible other fig leaves. A purely hardline government would attract more opposition, especially abroad, while a right/center amalgam will fool a lot of people into thinking things aren’t so bad. In short, a Bibi/Lapid government is more beneficial to the occupation than a Bibi/Yishai government – and it looks virtually certain that a Bibi/Lapid government is what we’re going to get.

Yet while ending Israel’s rule over the Palestinians is the overriding need, and while a wall-to-wall extremist government is preferable to an extremist/moderate cabinet for that reason, there is one very important accomplishment that only a centrist party like Lapid’s Yesh Atid could make in the next government. I’m not talking about his goal of mainstreaming the haredim into the army and workplace, or of lowering the cost of living. I think the haredim are too numerous and zealous to be overpowered, and I don’t see a go-go capitalist system, which is what Lapid supports, making life much easier for average people. Instead, what I mean is putting an end to the radical right-wing politicization of Israeli schools and, to a lesser extent, universities at the hands of the education minister, which is what Likud’s Gideon Sa’ar has done over the last four years.

In an op-ed earlier this month titled “The subduing of academia,” Haaretz education writer Or Kashti listed the afflictions Sa’ar has visited on the schools:

[T]he minister’s nationalist indoctrination in the schools in recent years has included sending students on field trips to the settlement of Kiryat Arba outside Hebron, and to the City of David archaeological site in Jerusalem that is run by the right-wing Elad organization. It has also included close cooperation with the Israel Defense Forces to increase the rate at which high school graduates enlist in the army. That rate had been made a criterion upon which schools are judged and rewarded. The national anthem is now learned in preschools, consideration of the Palestinian viewpoint has been removed from history textbooks. Revisions have been made to civics curricula, which were perhaps the last domain that offered students a more complex view of reality. In the end, the person at the ministry responsible for the civic curriculum, Adar Cohen, was dismissed.

That was in the schools; in the universities, Kashti wrote, Sa’ar was responsible for “the threat to close the politics and government department at Ben-Gurion University, the upgrade to university status of the University Center of Samaria in the settlement of Ariel, and recognition … of the [right-wing] Shalem Center in Jerusalem as an institution authorized to award bachelor’s degrees for two programs.”

More than any education minister I can remember, Sa’ar has imposed the governing Israeli worldview – illiberal nationalism – on the teaching of the country’s young. He has had a chilling effect on educators. And while neither he nor the schools nor, certainly, the universities (which remain generally liberal) are completely to blame for the closing of the youthful Israeli mind, Sa’ar bears as much guilt for this as one Israeli education minister conceivably could. Here’s the latest evidence of how closed the youthful Israeli mind has become: A survey of 1,000 Israeli teenagers taken by the Massuah Institute for the Study of the Holocaust found 57 percent of them think “the whole world is against us and we have nobody to rely on but ourselves.” From today’s Haaretz:

According to Massuah director Aya Ben Naftali, “This feeling that was typical of the mood in the 1950s and ’60s was replaced in the ’80s and ’90s by expressions of international belonging and solidarity, as part of faith in the peace process.”

She notes that in the past two decades the discussion on the universal meaning of the Holocaust and the meaning for Israel and the Jewish people existed side by side. But “today we meet young people who put more emphasis on the national implications, and we are hearing the belief that we ‘have to rely only on ourselves.’ This phenomenon takes us back a generation, for the most part, to the atmosphere of Israel in the 1960s.”

During his campaign, Lapid said he wanted to become education minister. I think he should stick to that goal, or secure the job for somebody else in Yesh Atid; there are some very good people in that party’s Knesset faction. They’re not going to achieve the goals they campaigned on, while they are, unfortunately, going to be a fig leaf for the occupation. But they are not Gideon Sa’ar-style zealots and could certainly be expected to end the Greater-Israelization of the education system. If Lapid gave Yesh Atid control of the Education Ministry, which is his for the asking, he could free the schools and universities from Likud indoctrination, which would be at least a partial saving grace in his otherwise indefensible collaboration with Netanyahu’s next illiberal nationalist government.