Two months ago, Israel’s education ministry introduced a compulsory four-part question in civics matriculation exams. Students are asked to give their opinion on a “controversial public issue”, including for example “allowing different population groups to live in separate neighborhoods”. In the circulation to teachers, it was stated that since teachers “sometimes encounter inflammatory or racist statements against groups or individuals” on the exam, “It’s important to make clear to the students that racist or inflammatory statements in any part of the question will disqualify the entire answer” (which is worth 11 points out of a total of 100).
But last week, the head of the ministry’s pedagogical secretariat, Moshe Weinstock, overruled the ministry’s civics supervisor and rescinded the rule. An update was sent to teachers, wherein the ban on racist statements was dropped, and the fourth part of the question was eliminated, in which students had to defend their position in light of their own values.
In order to understand what is behind the decision, it is necessary to analyze the reasons given for it as reported. Close scrutiny reveals they are disingenuous.
Let’s first look at the nature of the proposed 4-part question, as noted in Haaretz:
Sample topics included fluoridating water, allowing different population groups to live in separate neighborhoods, the size of the government’s child allowances and reserving slots for women on Knesset tickets. The student, after stating his opinion, must give one argument in favor of it and one against it. Then he must explain why he considers the argument in favor more convincing. Finally, he must ground his argument in his “interpretation of reality, the values in which he believes and his personal preferences in the emotional-personal realm.”
It’s in conjunction with that final section (“interpretation of reality”), that the ban and penalty concerning racist statements was made. The ministry took out that fourth part, together with the ban on racism. It thus used the question itself as a pretext to throw away the racism ban as a whole – but as we have seen, that ban relates to “any part” of the four-part question. So, effectively, the ministry was flushing out the baby with the bath water, expecting us not to notice the baby.
The Ministry’s update said this reversal was due to a need “to make the change” — that is, to introduce this new type of question — “gradually.” It promised that after the ministry sees how the question works, “we’ll consider how best to expand it”, as Haaretz reported. But this refers to the question itself, not to the ban on racism. The Times of Israel confirmed the claim: the removal “stemmed from the need to gradually assimilate the change in order to enable the students to deal with the question in the best possible manner.”
But the students are still being asked to argue for and against, as well as elaborate on why they find the one argument more convincing than the other. There is ample opportunity here for racist answers, even when the fourth part of the question is taken out. The clause concerning racist answers was meant to avert that.
Was that extra clause regarding racism just a theoretical exercise in averting racism?
Haaretz quotes a civics teacher:
“Many students write racist things in the matriculation exam: Arabs are a fifth column, there’s no problem with expelling Arabs from Israel, it’s permissible to discriminate against Arabs compared to Jews, and it’s possible to annex territory without giving civil rights,” he said, adding that exam graders had been complaining of this for a long time. “As long as there isn’t an a priori instruction that any racist response will be disqualified, this constitutes official encouragement of racism.”
Weinstock, the head of the ministry’s pedagogical secretariat, who is cited by Haaretz as the one having actually rescinded this rule on the ostensible grounds that “we need to inculcate the change gradually”, did this without consulting with his advisory committee, although several of its members are quoted supporting his decision. Haaretz cites committee members arguing, in the aftermath, that the original circular was “poorly phrased” and that “the concern was that with such a sweeping instruction, teachers were liable to interpret a million and one things as racism.”
So here we are, finally the issue of racism is addressed. Yes, that is the actual issue we are speaking about here, all the rest is just ancillary.
When the nonsense is removed from the arguments, what we are left with is a regret on behalf of the ministry that it had opened up this can of worms called “racism”. The ministry tried to argue that it “condemns any display of racism. Such displays have no place in the schools, including on exams”, as Haaretz noted. But this is not reflected in reality. The Education Ministry, headed by Naftali Bennett (the opponent of “auto-anti-Semitism”), has been introducing egregiously Judeo-centric, messianic and racist policies in the past few years, including banning a novel from the curriculum because it depicts a romance between an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian, claiming that “intimate relations between Jews and non-Jews threatens the separate identity.”
That’s Apartheid, in case anyone hasn’t realized it yet. It’s so literally Apartheid, since ‘Apartheid’ literally means ‘separateness’.
Questions like “allowing different population groups to live in separate neighborhoods” are so intrinsically Apartheid, that hardly anyone even registers it as such in Israel. It’s like you’re asking “are you for or against Apartheid?”. If the student answers “yes, I’m for it”, it’s not considered racism as such. This is not a right-or-wrong answer. But it is a can of worms. What if a teacher decides to note that Apartheid is racism?
This is a discussion that is so ‘controversial’ in Israel, they hardly know what to do with it.
A teacher is quoted by Haaretz saying that:
[T]he ministry was apparently “afraid to define what racism is, maybe because too many answers would be disqualified.” In civics, “everything is terribly sensitive,” but the “’Bennett spirit’ is to block almost any possibility of a complicated discussion of reality,” she charged.
One of the supporters of lifting the ban was Yossi Londin of Orot Israel, a religious college of education. He was appointed to the civics advisory committee by Bennett and is affiliated with
Habayit Hayehudi, the Jewish Home party. He said that “the wording exceeded the mandate of the civics matriculation exam and was liable to cause more damage.” Nevertheless, he added, no answer would be accepted if it “contradicts the state’s values and laws.”
What values and laws? The racist values and laws? Londin is actually, unwittingly, saying that racism is OK, because it doesn’t contradict the ‘state’s values and laws’. He just doesn’t realize it.
Racist state, racist values, racist laws, and overtly racist education. That’s Israel anno 2017.
And if I was in high-school and answered that on a civics exam, some teacher might very likely disqualify my answer as ‘racist’, or because it ‘contradicts the state’s values and laws’. But they wouldn’t need a special clause for doing that anyway.