I have often half-jokingly written here that Israeli nationalists and apologists will only be truly happy with Arabs when they get down on bended knee and sing Ha-Tikva, Israel’s uber-Zionist national anthem. Little did I know that right-wing Education minister, Gideon Saar, literally has this in mind. He decreed that all schools and all students, of whom 1 in 4 are Arab, will study a curriculum about the anthem. This despite the fact that Israeli Arab citizens detest the song and feel it disparages their identity and very existence:
Mr Saar’s initiative is widely seen among Israel’s 1.3 million Arab citizens as a further indication of the rising nationalistic tide sweeping policymakers.
…Arab citizens are unhappy with its heavily Zionist lyrics, which speak of how the “soul of a Jew yearns” to return to Zion, as well as referring to “The hope of two thousand years, To be a free nation in our land”.
…Abir Kupty, today an elected official with the Nazareth municipality, produced one of Israeli TV’s most talked-about moments four years ago when she was filmed sitting down when the anthem was played. She was the only Arab contestant in a show to find Israel’s future leaders.
Ms Kupty said: “This decision by the education ministry is part of the current hysterical right-wing mood in Israel. They hope they can erase our Palestinian identity by making us love the anthem.”
She added that Arab pupils were already deprived of the chance to learn about their own history, culture and identity. “The curriculum in Arab schools is heavily controlled by Jewish officials and by the security services.”
This is a perfect example of everything that is wrong with Israel: a pig-headed unwillingness to understand that if it wishes to be a democracy it must embrace, and not erase, the culture and ethnic identity of all citizens. If Israel wishes to be a nation based on Jewish supremacism it should accept that it is not really a democracy. Rather, it is a democracy only for its Jewish citizens. For the 20% who are not, it is a deeply dispiriting, second class existence. This is illustrated perfectly by the attitude toward Israeli Arabs within the education system:
Figures released by the education ministry this month show that only 32 per cent of Arab students passed their matriculation exam last year, compared to 60 per cent of Jewish students. The pass rate was a dramatic drop from the 50.7 per cent of Arab pupils who matriculated in 2006.
Yousef Jabareen, head of Dirasat, a Nazareth-based organisation monitoring education issues, blamed the poor results on growing cultural bias in the Israeli education system as well as severe budgetary discrimination.
He said the increasing weight placed on Jewish heritage and Judaism lessons put Arab pupils at a severe disadvantage, and that further alienation was caused by the state’s refusal to allow the Arab education system any autonomy in selecting its own curriculum.
A report published in March, he added, showed that the government invested US$1,100 in each Jewish pupil’s education compared to $190 for each Arab pupil.
If this were America, there would be an outcry from liberals about the inequity in such a system. Laws would be passed and court cases filed forcing a state to spend equally in every district and for every student regardless of ethnic background.
But where are the Jewish liberals now? Where is Jeffrey Goldberg? Where is David Harris? Where is Eric Yoffie? Where are the Jewish federations who claim they support Israel, as opposed to Jewish Israel?
Further evidence of Israel’s willful amnesia about the history and experience of its Arab citizens can be seen here:
Last week the ministry also announced that textbooks recently issued to Arab schoolchildren would have expunged the word “nakba”, or catastrophe, to describe the Palestinians’ dispossession at Israel’s founding in 1948.
What is the worth of a country that denies its history in such a way? How has America’s similar denial of its racist past beggared ourselves as American citizens? The truth is that every citizen must know the good and bad about his or her nation’s history if one is to be a full-fledged member of the polity. A society which denies the existence of such a large number of its own members is truly impoverished.
H/t Rupa Shah.