Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday presented the main tenets of the ”Biton Report” to the Education, Culture, and Sports Committee on Monday.
The report, published by The Committee to Empower the Heritage of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews in the Education System, which was appointed by Bennett, recommended updating the school curricula so they include compulsory study of Mizrahi authors and poets, as well as the study of the history of Sephardi and Middle Eastern Jewry.
”I realized that we are telling a partial Jewish and Zionist story,” Bennett told the committee. ”We are forgetting to tell the story of the Mugrabis` (Jews from northwest Africa) Machaneh Yisrael neighborhood; on annual school trips [students] do not visit Dimona and Yeruham to hear the wonderful story of the development towns; everyone is familiar with the Kishinev pogroms but not with the pogroms in Morocco, which were another catalyst for Aliyah. Only party of the story is being told, and this is a shame for us all.”
(Education Committee meeting on Biton Report)
Bennett announced that he has instructed the ministry`s employees to develop a plan for the implementation of the report`s recommendations.
Poet Erez Biton, who heads the committee, also attended the meeting and pointed out the disagreements he has with Minister Bennett and Education Ministry Director-General Michal Cohen regarding the implementation of the report. Biton said members of his panel must accompany the process of implementing its recommendations. ”I have a double `war` to fight – to try and convince the public that the heritage of [Middle] Eastern Jews should be studied, and a war with the Education Ministry to implement the report`s [recommendations]. The process will not be completed without the establishment of an administration or a center for the integration of eastern heritage,” he said.
Biton revealed that he had received numerous hate letters following the report`s publication. The report, he said, started a profound ethnic debate, ”which included the depreciation of entire populations. They called us people who kneel before the Graves of the Righteous, illiterates and people who chop the heads off chickens – things the mind and ears cannot bear. Such comments do not recognize the right of Mizrahi Judaism to express itself, with all its uniqueness.”
Biton said he had received a letter from a judge`s wife who said he was dividing the nation and demeaning the memory of the Holocaust.
MK Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid) said, ”I have read the report and it is outstanding. This report excludes racists who were waiting for a window of opportunity. I address the people in the Ministry of Education- I stumbled upon many people who were not aware, perhaps due to racism, but definitely out of ignorance. They did not comprehend when I wanted to write a chapter on Moroccan Judaism.”
”If the director general could find a way to integrate people from the committee into professional committees it would be great,” Cohen said, ”but you will make the decision. If the report and its recommendations would face platforms of defiance only, it will deepen the split. The power of the report and its findings is to complete things and not take away from anyone.”
MK Roy Folkman (Kulanu) added, ”I want to be more qualified thanks to the cultural wealth we have in the State of Israel. The rights entitled in this report are welcoming and the removal of eastern cultures is a loss. I call us to implement the entire Biton Report and educate Israeli society through its recommendations, not turn it into an internal social war.”
MK Eitan Broshi (Zionist Camp) explained that he ”Grew up in a settlement and it is diverse in its population compound. The main issue is from now onwards. The 2017-2018 budget must include an article to implement the Biton Report.” He added that Biton that will be recognized ”not only as someone who received an Israel Prize, but as someone who built the Israel of tomorrow.”
Expressing her satisfaction from the report, MK Nurit Koren (Likud) said ”I want to restore to its original splendor the communities of the east, whose location is absent from the history books.”
MK Oded Forer (Yisrael Beitenu) added, ”It is impossible to speak only of a certain narrative and ignore others. The administration is a critical step towards implementation. It is a stumbling block which could damage the entire move. We must combine external representatives who will check.”
Prof. Yoseph Yonah (Zionist Camp) said, ”We are aware of the strict budget of the Ministry of Education. If the Ministry of Finance will not bring resources from its own pocket, things won`t happen. We are facing a new Arrangements Law and there is no article related to this issue. The Budget Law is the test. Now begins a different process. If we will not present a significant budget clause, then all we do here is hot air.”
Committee Chairman MK Yakov Margi (Shas) said, ”The Committee is glad to hear that beginning in the upcoming school year, some aspects of the report will be implemented in the education systems. The committee urges the Minister of Education to consent to the calls of Erez Biton and integrate his committee members in the process of implementing the report. The committee also calls on the Minister of Education, as the chairman of the Council for Higher Education, to include the topics of Israel`s ethnic groups and the legacy of Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews in the new five-year plan of the academia.”