Category Archives: Israel

The dangers of state-controlled education

Schoolklas begin jaren '50 / Dutch classroom a...
Image by Nationaal Archief via Flickr

In Germany, I have often heard that maintaining state control of the school system and its curriculum is important for maintaining democracy. This argument is used against the idea of private schools and homeschooling: if people can teach children whatever they want, the argument goes, religious fundamentalists of all kinds will raise the next generation for intolerance.

In Israel, this argument has now been turned on its head: Ha’aretz reports that “The Education Ministry has cut most of its budget for the intensive civics classes for 11th and 12th grades, and the regular civics classes for 10th grade, and will invest the sum in the teaching of Jewish studies.” Who needs to teach democracy, equality and civil rights when instead you can push a religion that is now being used by popular religious racists to promote and support the practice of killing children?1

The good news for Israel is that it has a larger proportion of democratic schools than any other country in the world. 2 These schools will be far less affected by these cuts, and moreover, students in democratic schools finish high school with years of first-hand experience in democracy. The bad news is that a major reason it’s so easy to start a democratic school in Israel is that the system is designed to let in religious schools with essentially no requirement that any particular topic be or not be in their curriculum. There are many more religious schools than democratic schools, and I’m willing to bet few, if not none of them, use that freedom to promote democracy and fight intolerance.

Totalitarianism cannot rise without having a firm control over education in some way or another. The governments of Germany — ridden with national guilt as they have been for the past 60 years — use their tight grip on education to promote democracy; but having such central control makes it possible for shifts in the opposite direction, like the one we are seeing in Israel right now. Wherever intolerance is fostered we must speak out against it and fight it. But a democratic state is always at risk of electing intolerant leaders, and in case that ever happens, we had better make sure those leaders don’t have the power to indoctrinate the young generation. As we say in EUDEC, democratic education is a sensible choice for democratic states.

Footnotes

  1. I certainly do not mean to equate Judaism with this sort of racism. My family is full of terrific people who happen to be religiously Jewish and are at least as disgusted by this racism as I am. However, the mainstream in Israel does seem to support a rather nationalistic view of the religion, and the linked article reveals some very disturbing things. []
  2. I did not have the time to find a source to cite for this datum (a quick google search was not enough). I have, however, heard it many times; specifically, I recall Ya’acov Hecht saying that by sheer number of students in democratic schools, Israel has more than any other country in the world — even much bigger ones. There are about 30 democratic schools in Israel, which has a population of about 7 million. I know of no comparable situation in any other country today; the Netherlands had a similar proportion of sociocratic schools (which are a similar thing) but I understand that their numbers have gone down drastically in the past five years. []

Doing It Wrong: "Only Israel"

A friend posted this video to Facebook:       YouTube Link

(WARNING: Viewers who don’t strongly identify with the Israeli state may experience nausea!)

The music is quite good, but the words are more problematic. I couldn’t find the lyrics in English, but they can be found in German.

Back on Facebook, I commented on the video, and for a reason I don’t know yet and might never understand, my comment was deleted. Luckily, I saved a copy of it, so I decided to repost it here where people can respond to it freely: Continue reading Doing It Wrong: "Only Israel"

Contra Hecht: A Likelier Success Story for Israeli Democratic Education

I spent most of the day at the IDEC conference in Tel Aviv, and will be going back tomorrow. The first day has already brought up a whole lot of really interesting issues, but I want to address just a small one right now. I want to respond to a claim made by Yaacov Hecht of the Israeli Institute for Democratic Education: that the big secret to Israel’s success in democratic education is the mandatory military service. Continue reading Contra Hecht: A Likelier Success Story for Israeli Democratic Education

A war that cannot be won

Here are a few more articles about Gaza/Israel. Again, a common thread emerges – propoganda and the sheer unwinnability of this war.

First is Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com, criticizing Tom Friedman’s support of the war, which is backed by rationale that conforms perfectly to a text-book definition of terrorism – “politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant … targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience” (quoted by GG). Greenwald’s criticism is primarily of Friedman’s position, not of the war, but it provides some interesting insights. Salon.com: Tom Friedman offers a perfect definition of “terrorism”

Then comes Daniel Larison with a brief and insightful response. Eunomia (the American Conservative magazine): Wrong and Ineffective

Next, again on Salon.com, is Gary Kamiya with an angle comparing the war in Gaza with the 1982 war in Lebanon, and particularly the massacre of the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camp, as depicted in the award-winning new Israeli film “Waltz With Bashir” (which I really should go see already.) Salon.com: What “Waltz With Bashir” can teach us about Gaza

And finally Uri Avnery writes about the impossibility of defeating Hamas:

THE FAILURE to grasp the nature of Hamas has caused a failure to grasp the predictable results. Not only is Israel unable to win the war, Hamas cannot lose it.

Even if the Israeli army were to succeed in killing every Hamas fighter to the last man, even then Hamas would win. The Hamas fighters would be seen as the paragons of the Arab nation, the heroes of the Palestinian people, models for emulation by every youngster in the Arab world. The West Bank would fall into the hands of Hamas like a ripe fruit, Fatah would drown in a sea of contempt, the Arab regimes would be threatened with collapse.

I read his column on on-the-left-side.co.il, in Hebrew, but it can be found on his website (and the Gush Shalom website) in English as well. Uri Avnery: How Many Devisions?

The Thing about Gaza

There’s a reason why this conflict in/around Israel keeps dragging on and on and never gets decided by military force anymore.

You would think that an excellent fighting force like the IDF, one that has had unparalleled continuous experience fighting against terrorists, would have been able to produce outstanding results against terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hizbollah. Yet the more we fight, the more they fight back, and we are now faced with a threat (homemade missiles and other light artillery) that can only be stopped by invasion and occupation – walls can no longer reduce the threat – and yet our invasion has only made the threat worse.

It’s an extremely frustrating situation, but actually, it should come as no surprise. In the words of Martin van Creveld (a professor at Hebrew University, Jerusalem), referring, a couple of years back, to the USA’s difficulties in Iraq:

“In other words, he who fights against the weak – and the rag-tag Iraqi militias are very weak indeed – and loses, loses. He who fights against the weak and wins also loses. To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel; to let that opponent kill you is unnecessary and therefore foolish. As Vietnam and countless other cases prove, no armed force, however rich, however powerful, however advanced, however well motivated is immune to this dilemma. The end result is always disintegration and defeat…That is why the present adventure will almost certainly end as the previous one (Vietnam) did. Namely, with the last U.S. troops fleeing the country while hanging on to their helicopters’ skids.”1

(emphasis mine)

This is the thing about Gaza. This is why when I see those QassamCount status messages on Facebook, I think they’re kind of ridiculous… It’s not that there’s anything okay or excusable about firing missiles into a sovereign state’s civilian population – what Hamas is doing is abominable and a war crime – but when you compare it to the enormous level of destruction the IDF is causing in its retaliation in the Strip it seems rather pointless to point out Hamas’s offenses. Let me repeat this: what Hamas are doing is awful and demands a response from Israel. But when Israel’s response kills in days far more people than the Hamas could kill in years, it’s rather insignificant that Israel has a justified reason to be fighting, or that Israel doesn’t intentionally kill innocent people. By fighting with full force against an immeasurably weaker enemy, the IDF loses. It becomes a bully. No number of pictures showing Israeli soldiers’ kindness can reverse the effect of the sheer numbers. In weeks, we have killed hundreds and wounded thousands, in retaliation for attacks that over eight years have killed precisely 14 civilians.2

No matter what way you look at it, this is a strategic mistake. You do not engage in a conflict where it is impossible to emerge victorious. If Hamas thought we would not retaliate, it would indeed not engage us in conflict, because the only way we can possibly lose is to engage in combat with a force so weak that any victory against it would be a defeat. It is a paradox, but one we simply have to deal with if we ever want to see an end to the bloodshed.

More: Yossi Gurvitz has an interesting post related to this issue (albeit on a somewhat different note) [Hebrew].

UPDATE January 11

I originally posted this two days ago on Facebook. I’ve since made a couple of small corrections and improvements. The note on Facebook sparked an interesting discussion, and I’d like to add a bit about the importance of international support. Neither Israel nor Gaza can survive without international support. Israel has historically enjoyed such support from very strong allies, support which slips away the more we say “**** you” to the world and follow our own moral standards to the exclusion of all else. And the more Hamas is seen as the victim, the more other states and NGOs will help them – and the more Hamas is helped by others, the harder it will be to defeat them.

International support is so important to both Israel and Gaza because they are otherwise isolated. Israel has the Mediterranean on one side, and Arab countries on all other sides – countries which have all, at times, been at war with Israel. And Gaza has Israel on two sides, and Egypt on the other – and as this war has made evident, Egypt is no friend of Hamas. That Gaza is not self-sufficient is, I hope, sufficiently obvious. But that Israel needs the international community seems to escape the grasp of many Israelis. Israel may be a major arms manufacturer, but it still buys some military equipment from other countries, often at a special price reserved for close allies (as has often been with the United States.) And Israel needs countries to export to (arms as well as many other things) – a commodity that can become scarce if opinions turn radically against it. And Israel also needs tourists, once a major source of income, made less and less frequent by the escalation of conflict since the dawn of the second Intifada. But perhaps more than all these, Israel needs someone watching its back on the international level. The United States’ staunch support of Israel has surely prevented many plots against Israel from seeing the light of day, for fear of retaliation from Uncle Sam.

Is this conflict truly harming Israel’s international support? Well, it could. In Germany, it has always been taboo to speak out critically of Israel, because of the difficult past and the nature of Israeli-Germany diplomatic relations. And yet last night a friend of mine here said that for the first time, he’s seen the German media portray Israel as the bad guy in this conflict. Germany has still sided with Israel, officially, but a shift against Israel in public opinion is not a good thing, and those who say “who cares what the world thinks” might want to reconsider just how much they don’t care.

Footnotes

  1. van Creveld quote taken from John Robb’s Global Guerrillas blog. []
  2. Figure taken from ITIC report, via QassamCount.com. The figure refers to civilian casualties preceding Operation Cast Lead. []