Following their victory in the latest Israeli elections, the right-wing and religious parties are jockeying for the high-profile Defense, Foreign and Justice Ministry portfolios. But the most important ministry in terms of Israel’s long-term success is Education. In the field of Israeli education, there is an enormous amount of work that needs to be done and undone, as well as fundamental structural changes that need to be made. Israel’s future depends upon a strong education minister willing to take on the educational establishment
First, there must be basic policy changes that will steer Israel back towards traditional Jewish and Zionist education. The foundation of Jewish history is the Tanach—the Hebrew Bible. The outgoing government made efforts to lessen the importance of biblical education by removing certification requirements for the subject. As has often been said, what gets measured gets done.
Public schools are also succumbing to pressure to introduce concepts of gender fluidity, gender transition and other sexuality topics at very young ages. Outside organizations such the New Israel Fund and Panim contribute directly to such programs and indirectly advance them politically. This prompts the question of why the Education Ministry is accepting funds from such NGOs in the first place. Most importantly, all of these woke initiatives are in direct opposition to our traditional Torah values.
Then there is the issue of the failure to teach the most basic skills. For example, according to international rankings, Israel stands well below the U.S. in both reading and science. It appears that the Start-Up Nation succeeds not because of but in spite of its education system.
Fortunately, Israeli parents have an array of school choices, from secular to Haredi, without the price tag faced by Jewish parents in the U.S. Nevertheless, regardless of the parents’ choice, woke concepts are seeping into all the schools, even religious ones. Israelis have an obligation to try to shape the future of the entire nation, not just their own narrow sector.
Worse still, Israel is helping create the potential for civil unrest by allowing non-Jewish public schools to teach a one-sided narrative that demonizes Zionism and those who support it. We must ask: Why is Israel allowing rabidly anti-Israel teachers to work in Bedouin and Muslim schools? Last year, for example, a group of Israeli Arab teachers were accused of inciting violence against Jews. Those who commit acts of terror are not born terrorists, they are grown and nurtured—some of them, no doubt, in their own schools.
The next education minister must also accept responsibility for what goes on beyond the Green Line. Israel cannot allow Palestinian Authority teachers in Judea and Samaria to instill Jew- or Israel-hatred in their students. There must be consequences for such activity. When there is a terror attack, P.A. communities are closed down and Israel destroys the terrorist’s home. But when P.A. teachers nurture and incite these terrorists, Israel also has an obligation to act. Who, moreover, monitors the P.A. textbooks that teach the alleged evils of Zionism? The Education Ministry must take this task upon itself and form a division focused on what is occurring beyond Israel’s boundaries.
Finally, Israel’s education system needs major structural changes. Israeli parents should determine what’s best for their children, not the educational establishment. A parents’ committee should select or at least consult on issues like hiring a school’s principal. They should have a voice on the issue of whether to allow or prohibit “woke” content. Moreover, most teachers are being trained by universities that embrace “woke” ideology. Perhaps there should be broad-based university advisory boards that represent Israel’s diverse viewpoints.
There is much to do and, without doubt, the educational establishment is poised to push back on any reforms. But Israel’s future depends upon focused and determined efforts to steer the ship in the right direction. A strong religious Zionist education minister could be of great help in doing so.
Gary Schiff is a natural resource consultant and guide connecting Israel and the U.S. He has grandchildren in Israeli schools.