Tag Archives: israel education

Enough of a Syrian what if…

19 Sep

by Ilan Bloch


Image courtesy of Wikipedia

One of the most inane comments I have heard made in relation to the Syrian conflict goes somewhat along the lines of: thank God we didn’t trade the Golan Heights for peace with Syria because then we would now have ISIS or al-Qaida on the banks of the Kinneret. Even seasoned commentators like Ari Shavit and Shmuel Rosner have made such claims.

But history obviously doesn’t work like that. Yes, if we had traded the Golan Heights for peace with Syria, under Rabin, Netanyahu, Barak or Sharon, and every single thing which has actually happened since 1992-5, 1996-1999, 1999-2001, or 2001-2006, would have still actually taken place, then yes, ISIS or al-Qaida would be on the banks of the Kinneret. But to suggest that a comprehensive peace deal with Syria would have triggered the exact same set of events which no comprehensive peace deal with Syria triggered is folly. Who knows what might have happened if we had agreed to a full withdrawal from the Heights?

This post is not written to suggest that Israel should have agreed to such a peace deal but simply to stress that to disparage those who supported, or were even willing to entertain, such an idea as naïve based on what has happened since not agreeing to such a deal is illogical.

Of course, nobody today proposes that Israel should trade the Golan Heights for peace with ISIS, Jabat al-Nusra or Assad. But, students/tourists should certainly be made aware of the fact that Israel’s unilateral application of Israeli law to the area in 1981 was a move still not recognized by the international community. Moreover, they should understand that if and when Syria stabilizes in the future, the issue may well once again become relevant.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed tour guide and the director of Teaching Israel.


Guiding and politics

12 Sep

by Ilan Bloch

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Education Minister Naftali Bennett            Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Over Shabbat meals with other educators this weekend, discussion naturally focused on the new school year – and politics (it was Shabbat and we are in Israel, after all!). We discussed Herzl Schubert, a teacher, who was “caught” on camera at a recent Nabi Saleh protest against the encroachment of residents/settlers of Halamish on privately owned village lands, including the al-Qus spring. Yisrael Zinger, the mayor of Ramat Gan, where Schubert is employed, Deputy Mayor Aviyahu Ben Moshe, and many parents, called for his dismissal. The issue hit national headlines with Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich chiming in and supporting firing Schubert. Discussion also covered Avital Benshalom, the newly appointed principal of an Ashkelon school, who had to justify her 2002 signing of a petition supporting the right of soldiers to refuse to serve in Judea and Samaria/the West Bank in order to keep her job, against the objection of parents and Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni.

Interestingly, one of the tour guides at the meal – an olah from the West Coast of the US – said that she wasn’t surprised at all, and that she herself has personally encountered such attacks in her own professional life as a result of her apparent “extreme leftist activism.” Perhaps her activism might be more rightly considered to be “slacktivism,” as my friend has been to maybe two handfuls of rallies and protests during her time in Israel – perhaps one or two a year on average. Taken aback, I asked what had happened to her. She said she was interrogated in a job interview about her political views, even when she continued to answer questions by explaining that she would teach about all political viewpoints and allow students/tourists to come to their own informed conclusions – whether they be right, center or left.

What is so strange is that my friend is on the public record – in writing and at public appearances – as stating that the aim of her Israel education is to help students/tourists develop independent, critical and analytical thinking skills which will allow them to reach their own educated viewpoints – whatever they might be.

I paused and then asked my friend whether she should have asked her potential employer the following question:

“I understand that you don’t want to employ a leftist as an educator because you view her as too political (even though it is clear that her politics do not enter her classroom; indeed her students/tourists move from their previously held views toward greater complexity and nuance, which often includes moving away from the left).

“Do you also have a problem in employing tour guides who say “I’m not a political person; I just want my students/tourists to love Israel, support the government and do Israel advocacy on campus” (perhaps the most politically loaded sentence one could imagine)?

“What about avowedly right-wing guides who explicitly aim to instill right-wing views in their students/tourists?”

No, I didn’t think so.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide and the Director of Teaching Israel.

J Street, Zionism, the West Bank/Judea & Samaria barrier, & Israel education

2 Oct

by Ilan Bloch


(photo credit: Matt Duss)

I was shocked by comments made by an Israel educational senior professional, which I heard first-hand, that “J Street is an American anti-Zionist organization.” I was stunned because I believe that J Street – like AIPAC – plays an important role in the Jewish institutional world of the US. But, more importantly, I was taken aback because before making his comments, the speaker had spent almost an hour eloquently laying out a vision for an Israel education which presented nuance and balance, and supported pluralism. He had powerfully outlined the importance of making students feel that they are stakeholders in discussions and debates about contemporary Israel, and that the role of tour guides is to present issues, rather than relay information. He even averred that a level of constructive confusion on the part of participants should be viewed as a positive thing. I still fail to understand the incongruity between the entire lecture and the speaker’s remarks about J Street.

Developing independent, critical and analytical thinking skills on the part of Israel program participants is meaningless if we draw red lines which exclude organizations like J Street, which has almost 200,000 on-line supporters, from the realm of acceptable opinion. Israel program participants may not feel like stakeholders in the future of the Jewish people when they see that certain viewpoints, organizations and personalities are deemed treif (not kosher) by those institutional leaders whose apparent role is to define Zionism (or Judaism) for the Jewish world. Such polarizing attitudes may even serve to alienate students from organized Jewish communal involvement on their return to their home countries. Moreover, it is intellectually dishonest and makes Israeli tour guides agents of the government, as opposed to real educators. This is how Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov might view the role of the Israeli tour guide. At a recent speech, which I heard first-hand, he even went as far as to suggest that he sees his ministry, in a sense, as part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

This reminded me of another lecture I attended recently, by an expert in the field, on the changing borders of Israel throughout the ages. When the lecturer mentioned the Israeli barrier in the West Bank/Judea and Samaria, she stressed repeatedly that this barrier is called “the separation fence” and that, in the context of Israel tour education, this is the only name that should ever be used when referring to the structure. I cannot accept such an idea.

I want Israel program participants to know that although most Israelis might refer to the barrier as ‘the separation fence,’ ‘the security fence’ or ‘the anti-terror fence,’ some Palestinians might refer to it as ‘the racial segregation wall,’ and many other opponents of the barrier might refer to it as ‘the apartheid wall.’ Exposing students to various – and challenging – viewpoints regarding this issue, or any other issue which is dealt with in Israel education, is not an endorsement of such viewpoints. It is important that Israel program participants understand that although the vast majority of Israeli Jews support the idea of the barrier, and that only some on the far left and far right oppose it, it is vital to understand their objections, and to analyze in a critical manner the contention – which has become accepted orthodoxy in Israeli and Zionist discourse – that there exists an undeniable and absolute causality between the construction of the barrier and the reduction in Palestinian terrorism against Israelis.

Israel program participants should voice their own opinions on whether the Israeli High Court of Justice Beit Surik test case, which declared that the route of the barrier must pass the test of proportionality between benefit to Israeli security and detriment to Palestinian way of life, is being adequately met, rather than simply parroting MFA statements that it is. And, just as I want my students to understand the difference between the fence (almost 90 percent) and wall (slightly more than 10 percent) components of the barrier, I also want to hear their own viewpoints on whether the construction of the barrier may have had as one of its aims the setting of a de facto border (i.e. be considered what might be termed a ‘land grab’), as well as their own perspectives on the protest movement against the barrier in Bil’in and Na’alin.

For students to understand the complexities of the issue they need to be exposed to these complexities, be allowed to analyze them independently, and come to their own conclusions. Feeding them hasbara (Israel advocacy) soundbites about the justness of the barrier should not be confused with Israel education.

Israeli tour guides should engage in education, which must allow for a wide plurality of views on the part of participants, to be accepted as legitimate. Anything else turns guides into hasbara agents of the government, is intellectually dishonest, and may serve to alienate participants from engaging on a deep level with the Land, People and State of Israel.

Ilan Bloch is the Director of Teaching Israel.

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