The Knesset Education Committee discussed on Wednesday the Education Ministry`s decision to ban a novel that describes a love story between a Jewish Israeli woman and a Palestinian man.
Following a public storm, the ministry announced that the novel can be studied in advanced literature studies classes, but not as part of the regular school curriculum.
The acting chair of the pedagogic secretariat, Dalia Fenig, explained that following discussions with teachers, the Education Ministry was concerned that studying the book may arouse hatred and cause some students emotional harm. ”Our professional vision has to take into consideration all of the populations in the state education system,” she said, adding that ”other [works of literature] that deal with relationships between Jews and Arabs were not removed from the curriculum.”
Among the reasons stated for the disqualification of Dorit Rabinyan’s ”Gader Haya” (literally ”Hedgerow,” but known in English as ”Borderlife”) is the need to maintain what was referred to as ”the identity and the heritage of students in every sector,” and the belief that ”intimate relations between Jews and non-Jews threatens the separate identity.” The Education Ministry also expressed concern that ”young people of adolescent age don’t have the systemic view that includes considerations involving maintaining the national-ethnic identity of the people and the significance of miscegenation.”
(Committee Chairman MK Yakov Margi)
Fenig said the decision to disqualify the book was hers alone and that Education Minister Naftali Bennett (HaBayit HaYehudi) was not involved.
Committee Chairman MK Yakov Margi said the committee was discussing the issue in order to understand how decisions regarding reading lists are reached in the Education Ministry and what the considerations were for banning the book. He stressed that he does not apologize for the aspiration to ”protect the Jewish nation from assimilation,” which he called a ”strategic threat.” However, he added, the reasons given for disqualifying the book ”miss the point.”
Yuval Shimoni, who edited ”Borderlife”, read aloud from a text he said was approved by Rabinyan, the author. ”The love story between the Arab and the Jew ends badly. The Arab dies – not just any death – he drowns at sea. The relationship ended prior to his death, because the heroine realizes that it has no chance in the country we live in.” Shimoni also addressed the parts of the book which compare IDF soldiers to Hamas and said the character objects to these comparisons. ”The greatest danger in your eyes is the portrayal of an Arab who is not an arch terrorist, but a man with ambitions and weaknesses – in short, a human being,” Shimoni said.
MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) called the disqualification of the book ”political censorship,” while Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg said ”we`ve reached a point where our thoughts and life space have become so limited, narrow and dictated. The book deals with the complexity and difficulty that causes you to want to ban it. This is not merely a cultural debate; there is a threatening message here to all students and the entire society – `don`t deal with whatever is difficult`.”
MK Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu) said that while she opposed the Education Ministry`s decision to ban the book, she does not believe the measure involves planned muzzling by the regime. ”Israel is a stable democracy, and arguing about reading lists is permitted. Does anyone really believe that the girls of Israel will flock to Arab villages after reading the book? There is no real criticism here, only an attempt to make the government`s decision appear illegitimate.”
MK Yoel Hasson (Zionist Camp) presented some 20 books which he said Education Minister Bennett may find problematic as well, and MK Masud Ganaim (Joint List) noted that Arabs in Israel have a right to fear the message that this decision sends, ”but the minister can be pleased because the Arab dies in the end.”
MK Michal Rozin (Meretz) said Minister Bennett`s appearance on Channel 2 to defend the decision has made it political, and added ”there is an atmosphere of fear here.” MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) said, ”I heard the education minister on television and was shocked. It was a shameful appearance because he hasn`t read the book. The danger of assimilation? That`s our problem? The main problem is racism, hatred of the other and hatred of Arabs.”
MK Karin Elharrar (Yesh Atid) said, ”The message the minister is conveying to students is very problematic. The minister read quotes from the book that were taken completely out of context and have nothing to do with the book.”
MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin (Zionist Camp) said that while she was not certain the minister was involved in the decision, ”he accepted it with love, cradled it like a baby, without the minimal ability to trust the pupils in Israel.”
MK Yoseph Yonah (Zionist Camp) admitted that he had not read the book, but added ”it can be said that darkness is descending upon our land, as far as the closing of thoughts and the closing of dialogue are concerned, with an addition of the foundations of paranoia. I fear this is a step on a slippery slope.”