Democracy in Israel Education

This is a Guest Post by Dana Mandler. 

Taken seriously, the idea of democracy threatens every 
established elite of privilege or power,
 all hierarchy and deference. “On Participation”
Hanna Fenichel Pitkin and Sara M. Shumer
Democracy is a way of life. It’s the way we relate to people, to places, to ideas. Democracy extends far beyond a political system – it travels through our society, runs into our schools, our media, and into our consciousness.John Dewey wrote, “In the broad and final sense all institutions are educational in the sense that they operate to form the attitudes, dispositions, abilities, and disabilities that constitute a concrete personality.” He calls on us to be mindful of the society that we participate in, create and reinforce, and to be self-aware fighters for democracy.
So what happens when our society educates us towards hate, violence, racism?
These past weeks Israel has been in the darkened shadow of the new proposed Jewish State Bill. Or perhaps more accurately expressed by Meretz MK Issawi Frej last night, Israel has already been living under the regime of what the new Jewish State Bill proposes to implement lawfully. It disgracefully displaces the democratic character of Israel well after it’s Jewish one; it emphatically erases the equality promised in the Declaration of Independence; and it successfully succumbs to the hope-barren language of the ruling right wing.

This past weekend, I went on an educational tour of the south with Achvat Amim, a program that attempts to connect Diaspora Jews with the reality of Israel, while giving real tools for responsible, critical, and empowered engagement. We spiraled through the highways of Israel’s south, visiting various Bedouin communities that are currently fighting for the most basic of human rights, and eventually ended up taking a tour in the city of Sderot. With an acute understanding of the purpose of such tours, I was in shaken disbelief by the irresponsible and fear-imposing language harnessed and performed by the Sderot Media Center. The tour started with a security brief in case of an unprovoked rocket attack from Gaza, and ended with an explanation of the “primitive” abilities of our “enemies.” Perhaps for now we can overlook that our tour guide gave us the exact number of Israeli fatalities since 2000 (200) and when asked about the number of Palestinian fatalities (which he only mentioned when provoked in the overtly apparent vacuum of balanced information) rounded to the thousands (according to B’Tselem the number of Palestinian deaths due to the conflict from September 20th 2000-July 7th, 2014 is 6,890). Perhaps we set aside that our tour guides were transforming their pain into a pep rally promoting violence. However, we cannot ignore the increasingly dangerous expression of violence under the guise of Israel Education.
For many of the young Diaspora Jews and non-Jews sitting on the bus that day, this was their first time dipping their toes into the icy and relentless waters of Israel’s current reality.  It was their first time attempting to decipher the contradictions and complexities of the bomb shelters painted with generous tones in the playgrounds juxtaposed to a view of destruction and cramped villages just kilometers away. No child – Israeli, Palestinian, Russian, Canadian, no child period – should ever have to live in that reality. And to present an educational goal that expresses anything otherwise is shameful, racist, and precisely undemocratic.
Events like these are not isolated; these tours are ever-present, disguising themselves as true educational experiences, with ripple effects that can be felt on streets, in our politics, and most recently on our schools.
Last night – just miles from where thousands of Israelis gathered in the streets demanding democracy and just echoes away from author Nir Baram expressing the need for bi-lingual schools that create meaningful space for communication and partnership – one of Jerusalem’s institutions that perhaps best embodies and promotes these values was torched in the light of terror. Jerusalem’s Hand in Hand bi-lingual school is perhaps one of the truest expressions and actualizations of what Jerusalem is looking for as it blinds itself in it’s bloody blanket of fear.
Forty-seven years of occupation has broken the Israeli spirit. It has demanded a loss of empathy, and with that, a loss of humanity.
In a country where the language of democracy and freedom are so present and dominant, it becomes increasingly more dangerous when we see their truest meaning having been undoubtedly co-opted, transformed, and used as a tool to intensify fear and create space for racist speech to become the status quo. The various institutions that are created to promote Israeli Democracy, including the media and the schools, are today so unequivocally and desperately far removed from their genuine intention. If our experience in Israel Education is defined as one of submitting passively to hateful language, with a hidden agenda that reinforces existing power structures and violence, how can we conceive a different world, relationships, archetypes? How can we learn to love in an environment that is inherently violent? How can we become partners and comrades, or even find our common cause?
We must continue to fight for our democracy, in all of the spaces in which we find ourselves. We must take ownership over the Israel we wish to see, and educate towards it. As Dewey reminds us, “the cure for the ailments of democracy is more democracy.”
This piece originally appeared at
Dana Mandler recently completed her studies in Global and Urban Education at New York University. She is now living in Jerusalem, working as an educator and activist. She is a member of All That’s Left, an anti occupation collective

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