Dorit Rabinyan’s Arab-Jewish romance dropped from classroom

Haaretz reports on the recent controversy surrounding Rabinyan’s Gader Haya, or Borderlife:

Israel’s Education Ministry has disqualified a novel that describes a love story between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man from use by high schools around the country. The move comes even though the official responsible for literature instruction in secular state schools recommended the book for use in advanced literature classes, as did a professional committee of academics and educators, at the request of a number of teachers.

Israel has a strong track record, particularly within a regional context, when it comes to the rights of minorities.  Recently the Daily Express, following representations made by UKMediaWatch, removed Israel from a list of the worst places to be a Christian at Christmas. Ehud Olmert has just been sentenced by an Arab judge, and the Knesset has recently been arguing over which party could boast the first openly gay MK.

Disqualifying a book from a school curriculum is hardly the same as feting terrorists or promoting  violence, and those reporting that the book has been banned from schools are overstating the situation. And it reflects well on the climate in Israel that so many educators did want to see the book officially taught in schools – many teachers actively asked for it to be included in advanced literature classes.  But the explanation given by the Education Ministry for rejecting the book is troubling.

Among the reasons … 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.”

In opposition to the two officials who made the decision, Eliraz Kraus and Dalia Fenig, was Shlomo Herzig, head of literature studies at the Education Ministry.

“The hasty use, as I see it, of the disqualification of a work of literature from the body of work approved for instruction and included in literature curriculum doesn’t seem acceptable to me,” Herzig wrote to Fenig. “In all my all too many years as head of literature studies, I don’t recall even a single instance that a work of literature recommended by a professional committee by virtue of its authority, after thorough and deep discussion, was not approved for use by the chairman of the pedagogic secretariat.”

He added that he would expect the Education Ministry to be “a lighthouse of progress and enlightenment and not be dragged along by empty, baseless fears.”

But Fenig, who made the comments about miscegenation* (and this word seems widely used in such contexts by the Israeli press, although its precision could be questioned) quoted above, dissented:

Intimate relations and certainly the open option of institutionalizing [a relationship] through marriage and having a family, even if it doesn’t come to fruition in the story, between Jews and non-Jews is perceived among large segments of society as a threat to a separate identity.”

Among those who see intermarriage as a threat is the group Lehava, described by Reuven Rivlin as “rodents gnawing under the shared democratic and Jewish foundation of Israel.”. Although they go further, and oppose any kind of assimilation (members were responsible for an arson attack on the Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem) mixed relationships are a particular target.

But further responses to this move serve to highlight the strength of Israel’s liberal traditions. Authors Haim Be’er and A. B. Yehoshua have both denounced the novel’s disqualification, as have politicians from the Zionist Union party and Meretz. You can read more about the critical reactions to this news here.

* Ohad added in a comment:

The Hebrew is “נוער בגיל ההתבגרות אין ראייה מערכתית הכוללת שיקולים של שמירת הזהות של העם ומשמעות ההתבוללות”.

“Hitbolelut” is usually translated as “assimilation” – which is what Google translate does.

Haaretz are the ones who chose the word “miscegenation”.