Israel education and January 6 at the Capitol

The guide stood with her group on the lawn facing the Capitol building. After speaking about the structure, its architecture and its history, she turned to the events of January 6, 2021. She told her tour group members that the most commonly accepted narrative is that Joe Biden won the presidential election and that there was an attempted insurrection by supporters of then-President Donald Trump who had just heard him say that he would never concede defeat and that the rally participants should now march to Capitol Hill, where a joint sitting of Congress, presided over by then-Vice President Mike Pence, was being held to confirm the Electoral College results.

The guide continued by explaining that an equally valid alternative narrative holds that loyal patriots, battling massive and widespread electoral fraud, sought to disrupt the process, which would have falsely confirmed that Trump had lost the presidential election, which he, in reality, actually won. Moreover, she explained, that those people who were most responsible for the mayhem were, in actual fact, Antifa members.

One of the participants on the tour lambasted the tour guide, wondering how and why she would give credence to lies and conspiracy theories. The tour guide explained that she wanted to present both narratives and allow the tourists to come to their own conclusions. The participant said that although he understood that fostering independent thought was a lofty goal, it did not make sense to present unfounded accusations, which triggered violence, destabilized American democracy and dishonored the Constitution, as equally legitimate to… well… the facts and reality.

This is not to say that the motivations of the insurrectionists should not be taught; a full understanding of the events of that day requires it, just as we would need to teach about fascist ideology in order to understand Italy under Mussolini. But just as we would not afford legitimacy to Mussolini, so too we should not dare to do so to those who led the march on the Hill.

Of course, we would never countenance such a travesty in the American context. And yet, we accept Israel educators in Israel and the Diaspora presenting two competing narratives as equally legitimate when it comes to the legal travails of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. This happens not infrequently and it is disgraceful. Apparently, in an attempt to be as objective as possible, educators explain to their charges that perhaps there is evidence to warrant Netanyahu being tried in three separate cases on multiple counts of breach of trust and fraud and one count of bribery and that the legal process which attempts to bring him to justice is legitimate and proper.

Or — they continue — perhaps there is a conspiracy between the former Police Commissioner (Roni Alsheikh) and State Prosecutor (Shai Nitzan), and the Attorney-General (Avichai Mandelblit), all appointed by Netanyahu and none of who could be considered a “leftist,” in collusion with the media and the judiciary, to bring down a right-wing prime minister (even though he will likely be replaced by a right-wing prime minister).

This is not objective Israel education. It is not teaching to develop independent, critical and analytical thinking. Putting facts and conspiracy theories on the same footing is immoral and educationally unsound. Furthermore, it alienates Diaspora students — not just liberals or progressives, but anyone who values democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights — from Israel. As Israel educators we must be non-partisan — no political party that runs in Israeli elections (including those which survive attempts by the Central Electoral Commission — whether on the left or the right — to disqualify them) should be presented to our students more favorably than another.

But supporting and upholding the authority of the key institutions of the state is not about left or right, liberal or conservative. It is about mamlachtiyut (which one might roughly but wholly inadequately translate as “country before party”). This is obviously not to say that one cannot make legitimate criticisms of state institutions or even founding documents, or call for their reform. (There is, of course, a good reason why there have been amendments to the US Constitution). But there is a difference between this and a wholesale and manipulative delegitimization of them, for the unholy benefit of one man alone.

This is not a political disagreement. This is corruption. A viewpoint pillorying these institutions cannot be presented as equally legitimate to one supporting and respecting them, which should, of course, be a matter of broad consensus.

About the Author
Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide and teacher.
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