Educators, parents in Nazareth say online curriculum used to prep those going abroad on school-trips ignores Arab, left-wing narratives
A Nazareth school is demanding that the Israeli Education Ministry “immediately halt” an online course that all students are being required to take before going on overseas class trips, saying it propagates “racist ideology.”
In a letter sent to the ministry by the Adalah Legal Center for Minority Rights in Israel, the Masar School said the course, which became a requirement for traveling students two years ago, provides students with “content that is mainly political, biased and transmitted from a very narrow and one-sided perspective.”
They said the course, made up of five videos and corresponding multiple choice exams, promotes a one-sided political agenda. The exams allow for only one correct answer, the school said in its letter, and the course is “devoid of any sensitivity to cultural differences and the uniqueness of the Arab minority.”
They have asked the ministry to respond to their letter within 30 days.
“Children are not meant to be state agents of propaganda, and this program is actually illegal. By imposing this mandatory course on high school students, Israeli authorities are forcing Palestinian Arab kids both to internalize racist anti-Arab values and to spread racist ideology to others,” Adalah attorney Nareman Shehadeh-Zoabi, who sent the letter to the ministry, told the Media Line, using a term that many Arab citizens of Israel invoke to describe themselves.
Shehadeh-Zoabi said the program violates sections of Israel’s Education Law, which requires consideration of the uniqueness of the Palestinian Arab minority – citizens of Israel – and recognition of its language, culture and heritage.
“The exam itself also violates the principles of equality and educational plurality; causes constitutional harm to freedom of speech; and stands in overt contradiction of Israel’s Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty,” she said.
Calling the course “propaganda,” she added that Adalah would “take all necessary steps” to make sure it is cancelled.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Education noted that the exam is part of an “enrichment program,” which only those students who wish to travel abroad are required to take.
“When they go abroad, they are representing Israel,” the spokesperson said. “Israel has two basic principles: Israel is a Jewish and a democratic state, and in light of these two principles, we build all our programs. The State of Israel decides their message, and we take on those messages they have decided upon. Our students will meet with student representatives of other countries and they serve as ambassadors for Israel, of sorts. They are older, mature students and have knowledge and tools. The Ministry of Education has a narrative, and it is their role to show part of the narrative.”
Both Arab and Jewish students are required to take the course, which is part of the ministry’s internet enrichment portal instituted by former minister of education Naftali Bennett, a right-wing, religious politician.
Ibrahim Abu Alhij, director of the Masar Institute for Education, an NGO that supports the school, told The Media Line that the course was especially dangerous because the students are given a private email and password, and are then told to complete the exam on their own, preventing parents or teachers from seeing what they are doing
“It has an explicit message, but the most dangerous is the implicit message it is also sending. It is very clever brainwashing,” he said. “The Ministry of Education treats the children as if they are stupid: ‘I will tell you what to do and how to defend yourself.’ They are assuming that every Jew or Palestinian thinks like [them.] It doesn’t give space to think differently.”
He said the videos all present clean-cut, attractive, eloquent-speaking white people who are shown as role models for the students.
“We all know Bennett’s political position, but the other presenters are the more dangerous,” he said. “They speak with a lot of confidence and are talking about things that look like the truth…. They are using very clever communication methods. The messages between the lines are the most dangerous.”
In one video, Bennett tells the students: Whether you want to or not, you are going as ambassadors of Israel and you will meet people who may not have come across Israel before, and if they did, it was only as a country with the Intifada and where Israeli soldiers shoot Palestinians.”
The video goes on to list Israeli achievements, ranging from cellphone microchips, the Waze GPS system and drip irrigation for the “cucumber in your sandwich.”
Going on, Bennett says that “there is a big gap between the image of Israel and the reality.” He reminds the students that 99.9% of public diplomacy is how one behaves and urges them to “smile, be polite and not be aggressive.”
A 16-year-old Jewish student from a Jerusalem school who recently took the exam before going abroad soon, said parts of the exam made her feel uncomfortable.
“Some of the videos felt to me a little bit like Israeli propaganda about how great the country is, but not all of it. It was like they were pushing our accomplishments down our throats,” she said, asking that her name not be used. “Like saying [Israel is] a country that gives advanced rights for the LGBQT community. This is something I care about and I felt that was wrong.”
She admitted that since the trip is being subsidized by the Ministry of Education, it is within its right to make sure the students are prepared for any kind of encounter. She grumbled, however, about having to take the test during summer vacation.
“I think it is ok to make us feel comfortable about our country. They said that if someone comes to makes us ashamed, to just turn the conversation into something positive, to say that I don’t understand everything and they don’t understand everything. To talk about our lives. To listen to someone else’s criticism if they talk to me politely,” she said.
Naila Awwad Rashed, a parent at the Masar School, said her son came to her two years ago when he began taking the test before a scheduled school trip abroad.
“It made us angry… against the racist and discriminatory system and our marginalization,” Rashed told The Media Line. “The goal [of the course] is political…. You have no option but what they want to sell as their story. Bennett wanted to sell this as the real story. We as Palestinians or leftists must take this story with its truth if we want to leave Israel [as part of the school-sponsored trip]. This is a matter of racism… and we as parents decided we would not be quiet.”
The Masar Institute’s Abu Alhij said the school opposes the course on ethical, educational and political grounds.
“If you are teaching children to be critical thinkers, whatever they are doing should be discussed first” he told The Media Line.
“This course prevents children from discussing what they are going through. This is political; it is not mathematics. It is more dangerous – not only are [the students] doing [the exam] secretly, but they are also being forced to think in a specific way,” he said. “For…our school, it really contradicts our whole culture of learning.”
He said that though the school was able to circumvent the Ministry of Education requirement by making its overseas exchange program a summer event unaffiliated with the school, and one in which parents accompany the students. Nevertheless, it decided to call for the course’s cancellation.
“We decided,” he said, “it would be more dangerous to leave this thing in place.”