Critical issues

Critical issues

Two developments are unfolding in Israel and the Palestinian territories, which, if mishandled by Israel and the Diaspora alike, could lead to serious problems down the road — if not sooner.
First, two Palestinian high schools in Jericho have begun using a textbook that teaches the central narratives of the Zionist movement as well as the Palestinians. According to the Jerusalem Post, it’s the first time that the accepted Israeli position is being presented to schoolchildren in the West Bank.
Second, the Israeli Cabinet has passed a loyalty oath measure requiring non-Jews wishing to become citizens to pledge allegiance to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state.”
On its face, the first development should be great news for Israel. After all, one of its longstanding complaints about life in the Palestinian Authority is that its schools and television channels teach children a violent anti-Semitic message. This new textbook, which was developed by an Israeli, Palestinian and Swedish consortium, is a step in the right direction, even if the book isn’t being used yet in all age-appropriate Palestinian schools.
So what’s the problem? According to the Post, the Israeli Ministry of Education has banned the book, and one school principal in Sderot, who permitted its use in a single class, has been summoned to Jerusalem where he could face a reprimand.
So we’re now in the uncomfortable position where the Palestinians may become more open to teaching Israeli history than we are of theirs. How would that play in the world community? Would Israel be perceived as having something to hide?
And what are we afraid of anyway? Israel’s history is a source of pride; and its claims are valid ones. As a people, we should be strong enough to have an open vetting of both sides in this debate.
As for the loyalty oath, it’s a bad idea — especially at a time of delicate peace talks made harder because of the settlement freeze issue.
In defending the proposed oath, which must still be approved by the Knesset, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “There is no other democracy in the Middle East. There is no other Jewish state in the world. The combination of these two lofty values expresses the foundation of our national life, and anyone who would like to join us needs to recognize this.”
Clearly, Bibi is signing on to this proposal as a way to placate his right-wing coalition partners — Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party — while continuing with the peace talks.
Rabbi Danny Schiff, a Pittsburgh alumnus, said it for us on this issue: “The loyalty oath is a blot on us all,” he posted on Facebook. “It is a shameful move that shows weakness, not strength. It is, in my view, a contravention of our textual mandate to ‘welcome the stranger.’ ”
Schiff believes, as do we, that Israel should be identified as a Jewish state, and that the Palestinian Authority must recognize its right to exist as a Jewish state.
“But, just as England and Australia are Christian states (the Queen is, after all, also the head of the Church of England) that do not require their citizens to swear allegiance to the state as a Christian entity, so Israel should never require citizens here to swear personal allegiance to the Jewishness of the state,” he wrote. “We must do all we can to oppose the loyalty oath.”
Both these issues have the potential to seriously damage Israel’s standing abroad and create greater internal divisions at a time when no more are needed. How the Jewish state deals with each will be critical.