‘Kissing and biting’ Israel

7 Feb

by Ilan Bloch

Image courtesy of http://mikranet.cet.ac.il

Tour guiding conveys not only factual knowledge but also the guide’s own assumptions, beliefs and perceptions of an historical event. When considering the enormous influence that the tour guide wields in shaping his students’ Israel experience and the lens through which it is viewed, we should be fearful of traditional ‘Zionist consensus’ educational approaches. A tour guide who strives to have his students adopt particular ideological agendas or to limit their criticism of Israel is educationally problematic.

Such guiding may unduly influence the participants’ learning opportunities, and may limit the sophistication of their understanding of the events in question. Moreover, it may also retard the development of a meaningful emotional bond between them and Israel, as the initial connection that is established may be a shallow one. Even what may appear to be a successful inculcation of normative Zionist values, attitudes and behaviors by the tour guide in the participant body may not be successful in the long term. We should not confuse the teaching of particular historical narratives with their reception by the students.

Guides should strive to be as objective as possible, presenting multiple narratives and voices to students, and facilitating the development of their independent, critical and analytical thinking skills. Otherwise, guides may produce students who are detached from the reality of Israel as an actual country, only being able to relate to it on an immature, emotional level. Not only is such a representation false, it holds within it the potential to alienate our students from Israel. Moreover, they may place their students in a difficult position when they encounter critical (or even anti-Israel) voices for the first time, outside the context of Jewish-Israel education.

A different model for Israel education is that of ‘kissing and biting.’ In Parashat Vayishlach, Esau embraces his estranged brother Jacob, and the text refers to Esau vayishakehu (kissing) him. The interpretative marks (two dots) above the word have led to some interpretations that speak about Esau biting him. It is this duality which should be embraced in Israel education – almost that of a love/hate relationship. Although this may sound odd, as Israel education surely seeks to inculcate a love of Israel in students, this allows for a much more realistic – and intimate – relationship between the students and the Jewish state. We can only ‘hate’ our relative, our lover or, indeed, our country, if we already intensely love them, and such hatred should simply be viewed as an element of our intense devotion to that entity. An intimate relationship that could be described only as a ‘love/love’ relationship is unreal; such a connection between a Jew and Israel is one of infatuation, not of love. Students must be exposed to a realistic Israel.

If Israel educators seek to involve visiting students in a meaningful manner in learning about, and establishing an emotional connection to, Israel, they must be more open in the manner in which they approach their guiding, and seek to educate without regard for accepted Zionist orthodoxies, in as much as this is possible. An Israel education that seeks to hide the realities of Zionist and Israeli history, and of contemporary Israeli life, will simply serve to alienate students, who can easily distinguish between myth and reality. An Israel that remains mythical is an Israel with which the average Diaspora student cannot form a serious connection.

In today’s age, students live in an individualistic society, when communitarian myths are ‘shatterable,’ and in an information age, in which they can check their smart-phones during a tiyul (field trip) to determine which facts and analyses the tour guide is omitting, and in which they have most likely already been exposed to non-‘Zionist consensus’ narratives. Such students live with a level of cognition in which multiple and competing narratives, ideas and beliefs can co-exist, even if they are ostensibly mutually exclusive. Teaching the reality of Israel will lead to a greater, and more intimate, engagement – both intellectual and affective – on the part of the student with Israel.

Ilan Bloch is the Director of Teaching Israel.


One Response to “‘Kissing and biting’ Israel”


  1. Israel Update – Teaching Israeli news & current affairs | Teaching Israel - June 27, 2013

    […] perfect Israel in partnership with one another they first need to understand its problems. Click here for more about this […]

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