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ECPR Journals Virtual Special Issue

A New Canon? Cultural Wars and Religious Zionist History Education

Ethnic Conflict
Political Ideology
Political Cultures
Roy Weintraub
Tel Aviv University
Roy Weintraub
Tel Aviv University

History education functions as an epistemological, ethical, and political anchor for the construction of the personal and social identity of the young generation in a given society. It is, therefore, a cultural phenomenon that reflects complex relations between knowledge and power. In the past three decades, tempestuous debates have broken out around the world, including in Israel, over the representation of the past in education systems. In many countries, heritage, memory, and national identity have triggered trenchant controversies.
In 21st century Israel, history education in the state-secular system has evolved into a turbulent arena, full of debates and controversies, which reflect the confusion and doubts regarding the Zionist narrative. This erosion of narrative results from a two-fold attack that continues to characterize Israeli society. On the one hand, post-Zionist critics title the education process as one maintaining a monolithic, nationalist, exclusive narrative, which serves the Ashkenazi elite and ignores the great suffering that Zionism has inflicted and continues to generate on other groups, especially the Palestinian people. On the other hand, research points to the growing influence of the faith-based narrative of Religious Zionism.
In this lecture, I will explore the characteristics and goals of history teaching in the State-Religious Education (SRE) in the recent decade. In particular, I will examine how the abovementioned public uproar has influenced the SRE and analyze the various ways Religious Zionist faith has constructed a unique historical process that undermines secular historical understanding. Methodologically, I will examine a wide range of material that reflects different processes and points of view on the topic at hand: the new curriculum, the new generation of textbooks, matriculation exams, and the bulletin of the SRE History Teaching Inspectorate, which includes lesson plans and guidelines for teachers.
My analysis reveals that the fierce debates over history education in Israel has driven the SRE to present resolute theological and ideological stances. First, the erosion of the Zionist narrative has brought about concerns with regard to a conceptual infiltration of so-called post-Zionist and postmodern attitudes, and has motivated fundamentalist religious-Zionist groups to produce new educational media. Simultaneously, this erosion of the Zionist narrative actually loosened the secular ideological stances in the general Israeli society and thus enabled SRE to strengthen its faith-based approach.
The study identifies three main analytical categories that explain how SRE faith-based foundations shape a unique style of history teaching: 1. The construction of a bi-dimensional method of study in which the historical-disciplinary dimension is subordinated to a theological, metahistorical dimension that interprets the historical process as the expression of divine providence and as the fulfillment of the visions by Biblical prophets. 2. The creation of an over-idealized presentation of orthodox Jewish historical figures and movements that glorifies them at the expense of secular ones. 3. A one-sided, unequivocal teaching of the Six-Day War and Israel's control over the occupied territories, based on the belief in spiritual-historical Jewish ownership of the Biblical Land of Israel.

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