Too many times I have heard Israel educators, program administrators and presenters at professional development sessions say that Israel is not only about the Arab-Israeli conflict. They exhorted their audience to remember to forget the Palestinians, telling us that Israel is about more than our relations with the neighbors a few miles up the road over the Green Line and with those in the villages and mixed cities within Israel proper.
They stressed that the students’ relationship with Israel need not be inextricably linked to issues of peace and security, that Israel was about so much more than military conflict and diplomacy, and that there was so much more to examine in the short time that students would spend here. Exploring Jewish heritage, sampling culinary delights, enjoying music and art, meeting the LGBTQ community, and investigating Start-Up Nation (as though the high tech sector here is not closely tied to the IDF through Unit 8200 and Unit 81 graduates), and more, are all essential parts of Israel education, as important as – if not more important than – the (non-existent) peace process. The conflict/the matzav/geopolitics/news and current affairs was just another component of this tapestry which should make up an Israel education curriculum but, they would say, it is not the entire backdrop to the story of Israel. Each proponent of this view made clear over and over again that none of what she said was in any way intended as a political statement.
Just last week Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke from the dais at the United Nations General Assembly: “For way too long, Israel was defined by wars with our neighbors. But this is not what Israel is about. Israelis don’t wake up in the morning thinking about the conflict.” He sounded not just like a politician aiming “to shrink the conflict” but rather like one who wanted to try to ignore it completely and to make it disappear from the concerns of the international community.
I was immediately reminded of those Israel educators who say that we do not need to concentrate on educating about the conflict because Israel is about so much more. Both cases involve making a clear and bold political statement. And both are transparently seen as such by students hoping to grapple honestly with the complexity of the conflict, and who (rightly) view the conflict as a central aspect of life in the Land of Israel (at least for millions of Palestinians) and how they relate to it as a central component of their engagement with, and relationship to, Israel.
Minimizing curriculum hours spent on the conflict is just as political as a declared policy of minimizing the conflict itself. Our charges understand this. We need to as well.