Kindergarten Zionism

Little Zionists celebrate Purim in Kibbutz Sarid, 1930's

Little Zionists celebrate Purim in Kibbutz Sarid, 1930's

You’d think that this doesn’t deserve mention in a newspaper:

Beginning this September, Jewish nursery and kindergarten teachers will be required to open the week with the raising of the Israeli flag and the singing of “Hatikva,” in accordance with new directives issued by the Education Ministry.

The preschool teachers will also be required to teach the children the state symbols once a week. The directives state that by next Independence Day, “All the children will know the words to the national anthem.”

Could anything be less exceptional? This is done in the US and certainly in many other nations.

According to the Education Ministry, the directives will not be implemented in the Arab sector. “We are conducting discussions in the Preschool Department to see how we can adapt [the directives] to this sector,” the ministry said.

Oh — a problem. OK, leave Arab schools out. Israel is a special country where a large part of a large minority identifies with its enemies. That’s a subject for another post. I just hope ‘adapting’ doesn’t mean that they will be allowed to raise a Palestinian flag and sing the Palestinian national anthem, which, by the way, includes this:

With the resolve of the winds and the fire of the guns
And the determination of my nation in the land of struggle
Palestine is my home, Palestine is my fire,
Palestine is my revenge and the land of endurance

But some Israeli Jews are unhappy. The article continues,

“It looks like a competition between members of the Likud to see who can push us faster into the arms of fascism,” said Prof. Gabi Solomon of the University of Haifa, an Israel Prize laureate for education.

“There’s definitely a place for Zionist education for Jews,” Solomon said. “But it has to be balanced by democratic values. We are a Jewish and democratic state and without this balance even the best of intentions sound chauvinistic.”

What?

It is ‘fascism’ to raise the flag and to learn the words to the national anthem? Americans did these things all through WWII and it didn’t make them pro-Hitler — probably the opposite. And how is it anti-democratic — does it take away anyone’s right to vote?

Prof. Solomon thinks that Zionism must be ‘balanced’ by democratic values. But there’s nothing undemocratic (or democratic, for that matter) about Zionism, which is compatible with any form of government that allows Israel to be the state of the Jewish people.

The tension is in the mind of those like Solomon, who appear to think that ‘democracy’ means that each group in a state has an equal voice. It doesn’t. In a democracy, each citizen has a vote, and — with safeguards to ensure the civil rights of minorities — the majority rules.

Israel is a Jewish state with a Jewish flag and national anthem, and that is the way the majority wants it. While Arab residents might prefer otherwise, as long as their civil rights — the right to vote, fair treatment in housing, employment, etc. — are not violated, this does not make it undemocratic.

Israel can be a democratic state that gives equal civil rights to all of its citizens, while still being the state that belongs to the Jewish people and that exists for the Jewish people. For those non-Jews who nevertheless feel diminished or infuriated by living in such a state, they are not required to do so. After all, there are 23 Arab states among 192 other members of the UN to choose from.

Some anti-Zionist Israelis seem to be prepared to resist in a passive-aggressive way:

Y., a kindergarten teacher in the Tel Aviv area, said she didn’t think teachers would implement the directives.

“I’m certain that no teacher will even know about this,” she said. “Even the most diligent teachers read until page 7 of the pamphlet of directives; no one will get to page 11.”

“Even though it obligates us, nobody bothers asking us about it,” she continued. “In any case, I have no way of raising a flag, because I don’t have a flagpole.

“In the past they tried to do something like this and it didn’t go over,” Y. said. “I know that in Binyamina there was a kindergarten that tried something like this two years ago, and the parents just rebelled. They started bringing their kids late in the morning on purpose.”

I can see it now: “Moshe, put your pants on more slowly, do you want to arrive early and become a fascist?”

The new directives are part of a series of initiatives launched by Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar aimed at strengthening pupils’ Jewish and Zionist identity. These have included “adopting” a grave of a fallen soldier, school visits to Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the Israeli Journey program sponsored by the Bereshit association headed by Rabbi Motti Elon, and expanding visits to Jerusalem, with a stress on the City of David.

Sa’ar has also instructed schools to increase their cooperation with the IDF, and officers are invited to motivate both teachers and pupils.

Last year, the ministry introduced a new subject to the state schools’ curriculum called Jewish Heritage and Culture, taught in grades six through eight for two hours weekly. The class teaches about the Jewish calendar and “the Jewish people’s link to the Land of Israel.”

Why is this necessary? Because in recent years the Israeli educational system has removed material about Jewish history in the land of Israel from the curriculum. After 1993, a succession of left-wing Education Ministers took out references to ancient Israel and even recent wars in order to “educate for peace” (of course the Palestinian Authority developed its educational system to create a generation of haters and even encouraged ‘martyrdom’ for their cause). Emphasis on Jewish history was replaced by a universalistic approach that was more congenial to the Left.

At the same time, propaganda from anti-Zionist sources — the false history of the ‘new historians’, the nakba narrative, even pseudo-scientific arguments that there is no Jewish people — proliferate.

In part as a result, the number of young Israelis avoiding the draft has soared. Intellectual destruction makes possible physical destruction.

There is nothing inherently fascist or wrong with loving one’s country, with identifying with one’s people, and even with valuing them more than other groups. This is a normal human characteristic, which should not be confused with manifestations of excessive particularism like racism or chauvinism. It is not necessary to destroy the former in order to prevent the latter.

Maybe it’s because we live in a world where ethnic and religious hatred is more the rule than the exception — may I point out that this is especially a problem in the Muslim world? — that we go to extremes to try to stamp out any such attitudes among ourselves. The Jewish people has been particularly ‘extremist’ in this regard, in some cases to the point of encouraging national suicide.

Let’s get a grip: raise the flag, sing the national anthem, learn about the history of the Jews in the Land of Israel and the heroism of the Jewish fighters that have made it possible for, finally, there to be one tiny Jewish state.

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