On the Quiet Revolution in Citizenship Education

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Israeli self-doubt about its own legitimacy grows out of a concern that it cannot be both Jewish and democratic. This anxiety has made its way into the Israeli Education Ministry’s curriculum. In this 2001 Azure essay, Daniel Polisar offers suggestions about how Israeli civic education can be renewed so that young Israelis will be taught the disciplines of citizenship. In making his case, Polisar provides the interesting history of civic education in Israel, identifying both what was done well and what was not throughout the history of the Jewish State.

This is a troubling development, to say the least. If the current trends are left unchecked, the next generation of Israelis may well enter adulthood without any clear understanding of why their state should be a Jewish one, and burdened with the belief that the Jewish state in which they live cannot be truly democratic. As such, it will be far more difficult for them to justify in their own minds the real sacrifices involved in their subsequent years of military service, or to meet head-on the challenges which continue to confront the project of sustaining a modern Jewish democracy in the Middle East. . . .

The answer lies in developing a citizenship course that will provide students with the conceptual frame of reference they need to develop a loyalty and commitment to Israel’s character as a Jewish state, to its democratic institutions, and to its open society. Such a course should address all the issues that undergird Israel’s continuing mission as the state of the Jewish people: The theoretical justification for national states, the compatibility of the particularist traditions of such states with a democratic form of government and with an open society, the historic reasons for the establishment of a Jewish state, the political and constitutional tradition of the idea of the Jewish state, the policies that have expressed this ideal in the past and in the present, and the compatibility of Israel’s Jewish character with democratic government and individual rights.

Read the entire article in Azure.

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