Complexities and Contradictions: Citizenship, National Narratives, and Education in Israel

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Sheps, Stephen
Education , Ethno-Nationalism , Israel/Palestine , Citizenship
Public school systems tend to operate as a lens into general public discourse, a way to determine how successive generations are moulded from students into citizens. History and civics curriculums are sites of history making, where cultural and historical narratives, mythologies and ideas are created, transmitted and explored, often for the first time. It has become clear that successive generations of new Israeli citizens (and non-citizens) are exposed to a single historical and mythological narrative, intentionally designed to legitimate the occupation and erase the many systemic race and class-based problems in Israel from the general public discourse, particularly given that in Israel, citizenship is defined racially. The question that remains, however, is what does citizenship in Israel mean to the divergent communities that make up Israel’s population? This study of citizenship, Zionism and the creation of national narratives in the Israeli public education system, and Palestinian-Israeli reactions to it, demonstrate that Israeli society is too complex to have a single national historical narrative in its public schools. Through textbooks, curriculum design and education policy in government, the singular vision of history utilized by the Israeli Ministry of Education creates and reifies social inequalities and racial hierarchies and disintegrates community bonds across ethnic, religious and class lines. Such a system renders the populations of Israel divided, antagonistic and ultimately precarious, and helps to reinforce the problem of ethno-nationalism operating in an ostensibly liberal-democratic framework.
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