Israeli civics and history education

27 Jun

by Ilan Bloch

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Civics and history courses should be completely separated. History courses (for Jewish Israeli students) should deal with Jewish history (in the Diaspora), the history of the Land of Israel (First and Second Temple periods, as well as the modern Zionist movement and the State of Israel), and general world history. The study of world history is vital in order to ensure:

a) that students realize the contribution of other civilizations to the world, and do not embrace an Israel/Judeo-centric attitude;

b) that students actually learn the discipline of history properly, something which is impossible to achieve if they do not deal with the history of other peoples, countries and times (e.g. ancient Egypt, classical Greece and Rome, the medieval world), and

c) that students can place the history of Israel (including the Arab-Israeli conflict) in the context of world historical forces (and other examples of territorial and/or ethnic conflicts in the world).

On the other hand, civics classes should deal with understanding the structure and institutions of the government of the State of Israel (e.g., the legislative, executive and judicial organs of the State). This would include the Knesset, the public administration and the courts, the Basic Laws, the electoral system and the rights and responsibilities of all citizens, as well as promoting an appreciation of the common destiny of all the citizens of Israel (whether Jewish or not, and whether religious or not). Respect and tolerance for, and consideration of, fellow citizens, and the need to build a society together, in which civil rights are respected and civic responsibilities are fulfilled, should be the focus of civics education. This is a very separate sphere from the study of history.

Historical events do not have a single and unambiguous meaning. The same historical events can be interpreted in different ways. There is no single commanding voice in history. Accordingly, the teaching of history should not be exploited in order to propagate a particular ideological message. For example, the Holocaust can be taught both to promote a liberal, human rights-focused, democratic agenda or, on the other hand, to promote an ethno-religious ultra-nationalist particularistic one. The Holocaust, just like any other historical event, should be studied objectively, with all ideological perspectives dealing with the event being examined and analyzed. The purpose of history teaching should be to give students the tools and the ability for independent, critical and analytical thinking which will allow them to analyze historical events in as an objective a way as possible and to understand the ideological biases which may underlie the writings of different historians. No event should be utilized by the education system to pursue particular ideological ends.

Ilan Bloch is the Director of Teaching Israel.


One Response to “Israeli civics and history education”

  1. Helen Solomons June 28, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    I agree, civics classes SHOULD deal with understanding the structure and institutions of the government of the State of Israel – and the first people to take these classes should be the arrogant, ignorant, overpaid (however much they are paid it is too much) public ‘servants’, who once they have tenure and therefore cannot be fired, forget who exactly pays their salaries.
    Not the government, but you and me. The tax payer.

    Basic Laws are flouted by the very people who are charged to uphold them, and the electoral system in Israel can never be democratic while public ‘servants’ pull the strings of government like so many manic puppeteers.

    The basic, democratic rights of all citizens to be heard are flouted in Israel on a regular basis – and I have no interest in sharing any kind of common destiny with these corrupt officials.

    Respect and tolerance for, and consideration of, fellow citizens, are apparently non-existent within the public sector – and why do they need to be, when it doesn’t matter how much an employee screws up, he or she can never be fired – short of committing murder.

    Yes, we need to build a society in which civil rights are respected and civic responsibilities are taken seriously. But until there is a massive reform of our public institutions – including equal opportunities in employment and dissolution of ‘tenure’ it just won’t happen.

    We have been sitting back, watching the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, wallowing in self-righteousness that Israel is apparently the only democracy in the Middle East. It’s nonsense.
    At least the Arab world dictators are up front about their determination to hold onto power – and woe betides anyone who disagrees with them. Here in Israel, I contend that the historical absorption of immigrants from Eastern European countries along with their own legacy of communist repression, has had a detrimental effect on the country.

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