To the Editor:
I was quite astonished to read Yoram Hazony’s article, “The Zionist Idea and Its Enemies” [May]. This piece, in a scandalous fashion, completely misrepresents the facts behind the proposed amendment to Israel’s State Education Law. The amendment was approved unanimously by the previous government and won a decisive majority in the Knesset on the way to its first reading.
Mr. Hazony claims that in my capacity as Minister of Education I decided to remove the “archaic interest in Jewish values and culture,” along with “love of homeland” and “loyalty to the Jewish people.” While I was a strong supporter of this amendment, absolutely nothing that was initiated by me or anyone else connected with it would support any of Mr. Hazony’s fictitious charges.
A quick look at the proposed amendment totally refutes these claims. In fact, the amendment contains many subsections that are totally the opposite of Mr. Hazony’s assertions.
Paragraph two describes the goals of the educational system, which incorporates Jewish and Arab schools. The following are the highlights of this paragraph:
- Subsection 1 calls for “educating a person to love his fellow man, his people, and country.”
- Subsection 2 refers to the values of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, as well as democratic and humanistic values.
- Subsection 9 calls for “the study of the land of Israel and the state of Israel.”
- Subsection 10 calls for the “study of the history of the Jewish people, the heritage of Israel, the Jewish tradition, and to inculcate the memory of the Holocaust and heroism.”
Finally, the rationale behind this amendment was to make the 1953 State Education Law relevant to today’s Israeli society. In addition to the above components of the amendment, there are new ones calling for the pursuit of peace and coexistence, tolerance and respect for all sectors of our pluralistic society.
As the above indicates, none of Mr. Hazony’s claims is valid.
Moreover, during my tenure as Minister of Education, Jewish studies began to flourish after many years of stagnation. The Shinhar Committee report, which recommends a new, more pluralistic attitude to Jewish studies, has been adopted, and consequently over 4,000 teachers have had special training in Jewish studies in the new center we established for this purpose in Beersheba. For the first time, the Ministry is giving scholarships to university students in Jewish studies, and consequently the number of these students has quadrupled.
Together with Rabbi Amital and Avraham Burg, we initiated a state commission for Jewish studies. The Ministry, under my guidance, has enhanced support for Yad Vashem, established a school for Holocaust studies, and increased the number of youth delegations to Poland and the death camps.
Indeed, everything I have written or done as a Member of the Knesset and in the Cabinet negates and refutes the libelous sentences written by Mr. Hazony in his article.
Yoram Hazony writes:
Amnon Rubinstein, until recently Israel’s Education Minister, insists that “absolutely nothing” initiated by him could support the contention that he and his Ministry were involved in an effort to excise critical clauses from the law which mandates that every Israeli child receive a Jewish-national education. But a look at the record shows that he and his closest advisers were responsible for creating and advancing a draft law which did just that.
The law Mr. Rubinstein sought to change is the State Education Law (1953), which is still in force despite the present efforts to amend it. The law is a classic piece of Labor Zionist legislation, which in 43 words seeks to define “the purpose” of the state education system. First and foremost among its concerns is that the system inculcate in students “the values of Jewish culture,” “love of the homeland,” and “loyalty to the Jewish people.”
Precisely because of this Jewish-national content, Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, considered the state Education Law to be one of two pieces of legislation embodying the “central aims” of the state of Israel; the second was the Law of Return, which grants the right of Israeli citizenship to every Jew. Said Ben-Gurion: “I see these [two] as the highest laws of the state of Israel, and until they have been carried out to perfection, it is impossible to see the work of the state as having been completed.”
Ben-Gurion’s State Education Law persisted for 42 years without a major effort to overturn it—until last fall, when Mr. Rubinstein’s Ministry set out to replace the old text with an entirely new system of “purposes.” In November 1995, Mr. Rubinstein’s legal adviser, Aryeh Brick, sent government officials copies of a new education law being proposed by the Ministry, along with a letter explaining that this draft was the product of “deliberations which have taken place in the Education Ministry over the last two years . . . regarding the desired character of the graduate of the educational system.” Presumably, this highly sensitive piece of draft legislation was issued by Mr. Rubinstein’s office with his approval.
The Ministry’s draft law contained no fewer than ten clauses’ worth of educational aims, declaring the intention to foster “love of man”; “democratic values”; individual personality development; knowledge of the sciences and “arts of mankind of all types and periods”; intellectual ability; equal opportunity; a desire for “mutual assistance and social justice”; study of the history of the Jewish people and the state of Israel; and familiarity with “the language, culture, and unique heritage of the various population groups in the country,” as well as recognition of “the equality of fundamental rights of all citizens of Israel.”
Except for the teaching of the past history of the Jews as a precursor to modern Israeli history, the proposed law was devoid of any references to Judaism or the Jewish people. The three Jewish-nationalist phrases from Ben-Gurion’s time, which had sought to nurture a personal attachment to the Jewish people and to Jewish values among the students, had been removed.
The following week, the proposed law was made available to the media. On December 10, the daily Ha’aretz printed the entire text verbatim under the headline, “Rubinstein to submit proposal for changing the wording of the state educational aims.” The story included an interview with Rubinstein’s senior adviser, Ofer Brandes, who explained why the new law should replace the 1953 version, twice referring to Ben-Gurion’s law as “archaic.” In short, Mr. Rubinstein and his Ministry were not only responsible for the development and circulation of a new law stripped of almost all Jewish content, but his office then went on to defend this draft in the press.
Mr. Rubinstein is correct in pointing out that the bill eventually voted upon and sent to the Knesset Education Committee this spring (after my article was submitted to COMMENTARY) does include a clause which mandates learning about “the history of the Jewish people, the heritage of Israel, and the Jewish tradition.” But this fact does not alter my basic claim that his Ministry was working to advance a post-Zionist educational law.
I say this for two reasons. First, the new clause is still substantially watered down from Ben-Gurion’s phrasings. The bill as it now stands still deletes the inculcation of “Jewish values,” “love of homeland,” and “loyalty to the Jewish people”; it still has no references to the Jewish people other than in the past; and it still relegates Jewish education to the bottom of the educational shopping list—as the tenth priority out of eleven.
Second, Mr. Rubinstein and his Ministry were probably not the ones responsible for the ultimate inclusion of the Jewish clause. Sources close to the Labor government claim that it was added after another government minister threatened Rubinstein with public opposition if he did not add Jewish content to the bill. Given that the Knesset was then split 61-59 between Labor and Likud, a revolt within the government would have all but guaranteed the bill’s defeat. According to these sources, Mr. Rubinstein agreed to alter the text only after “protracted negotiations.”
But even if these reports are to be dismissed, and the weakened clause was tacked on for other reasons, the fact remains that Mr. Rubinstein and the officials under him had no scruples about designing, circulating, and defending an almost perfectly dejudaized, post-Zionist State Education Law, just as I reported in my article.
I do not question the sincerity of Mr. Rubinstein’s commitment to Zionism; he is, for example, an outspoken champion of the Law of Return, something which can be said of few Israeli public figures these days. The problem is that, like many others, he has accepted the post-Zionist idea that the Jewish state can flourish even if virtually everything about it that is particularly Jewish-national is jettisoned.
But this is a fallacy: Jewish nationalism is the theoretical framework on which the state of Israel was and is built. If this framework is destroyed—whether in the name of post-Zionism, liberalism, or any other value—it will lead to the rapid dissolution of that which connects Israeli Jews to their people, their land, and ultimately their state as well.