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Israel bans textbook promoting Arab rights

Claims book is unbalanced but critics say move is part of bid to make country more nationalistic and less democratic

Gulf News

Occupied Jerusalem: The right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has banned a high school civics textbook as "unbalanced," a move critics say is part of a broader bid to shift Israel's values in a direction that is more nationalistic and less democratic.

Officials cited factual errors in the book as the main factor in the decision. But liberal educators say the errors could easily be corrected and that the larger issue is a national struggle to define Israel's identity.

"The argument about the book is not really about the book," said Riki Tesler, who teaches education at the Hebrew University and heads the Academic Forum for Civics Instruction. "It is about who will control the discourse on civics in Israel. The question is, can civics be as it is today — pluralistic, Jewish, and democratic — or will it be ethnocentric and emphasising patriotism?"

The book, Taking the Civil Road, was approved by the ministry for use in August 2011 and is notable for its treatment of Palestinians in 1948 areas.

The textbook recounts how Palestinians not only fled but were also forced to leave when Israel was established in 1948. And it places much of the blame for the frayed relations between Jewish and Arab citizens on the state, citing for example its expropriating Palestinian land during the 1970s and its exclusion of Palestinians from state symbols.

It advocates the adoption of a constitution, which Israel doesn't currently have, as a way to better protect minority rights and Arab-Jewish civil society dialogue.

The book's cancellation reinforces the dominance and assertiveness of the right-wing, which favours a more nationalistic approach to domestic affairs, including Jewish colony expansion in the West Bank.

Thwarting threats

The right is anxious to thwart what they see as threats to Israel's Zionist underpinnings.

"The trends in this book are anti-Zionist,'' said Danny Danon, a Member of Parliament from Netanyahu's Likud party who backed its cancellation.

"Its spirit is, instead of strengthening our rights, to call them into question.''

The right would easily retain power if elections were held now, according to polls. In the most recent session of the Knesset, right-wing legislators demonstrated intent to make new inroads in a variety of areas, including the judiciary, targeting what they charge is a "liberal elite'' that retains positions of influence while, in their view, not reflecting the will of the majority.

For example, a new draft bill proposed by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman would enable a Knesset majority of 65 out of 120 members to overturn certain supreme court rulings, a step liberals see as infringing on the court's ability to protect minority rights.

— Christian Science Monitor

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