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Teaching American Zionism Through Civics Education

Rabbi Tully Harcsztark
June 11, 2021

“How do you teach Israel?” Parents, educators and high school administrators ask – and are often asked – this question. This comes as no surprise. Israel Education (IE) is one of the most vexing challenges in Jewish education today. Scholars design new curricula and schools do their best to accomplish a variety of goals through a range of media. Educators aim to cultivate a love for Medinat Yisrael, an understanding of Zionism, and an appreciation for both the miracle that is the Jewish State as well as its enormous complexity. For self evaluation, we imagine a high school graduate on a college campus and we ask: have we prepared you properly for what you will confront on your campus? Educators disagree as to what constitutes preparedness. Some invoke military analogies: we need to arm our students with the information that they need in order to defend the State of Israel and combat the arguments of left-leaning professors and student organizations. Other educators use a medical analogy: we need to inoculate our students so that they have heard the narratives on the other side before they arrive on campus. This will allow our graduates to purposefully engage with others in a thoughtful and knowledgeable manner. Considered this way, our job is to prepare students for conversations with others – people who are outside of our community and see matters through different histories and experiences – in order to help them understand what we already know.

I think that these discussions, curricula and analogies are skipping a crucial step – and missing an opportunity. As Jewish Americans in the Diaspora, we see the importance of advocating on behalf of the State of Israel, ideally as a united front against those who think differently. But there is an important internal conversation to be had. The State of Israel is the greatest experiment in Jewish living, an attempt to establish a flourishing, ethical, Jewish and democratic society – an opportunity like no other to bring to life the idea of the Jewish people as a light unto the nations. To create such a society, the people and its leaders must consider countless moral, ethical and political questions that require prioritizing the use of its resources and balancing the cultural values and practices of the community with the rights of individuals to make their own decisions. This includes debates about the role of religion in Israeli society and the relationship with, and responsibility for, Arab Israelis and those living in the territories, to take two examples. Israeli citizens have internal debates about many of the issues that reflect these questions and tensions. These debates inform for whom citizens cast their ballots.
Although American Zionists are not Israeli citizens, we and our students can gain a deeper understanding of the civic dilemmas and decision-making necessary to make this grand experiment successful. Engaging these questions can be a source of identification with and connection to Israel, provide our students with a complex understanding of the internal debates taking place among its citizenry and promote internal discussion about our hopes for our beloved homeland. To do so would require a different kind of curricular work, one which considers these complex issues through a civics-based lens.

History vs. Civics
IE in the United States is typically a ‘history-driven’ program. The trajectory of IE courses generally has a ‘pre-1947’ and ‘post-1947’ arc. The former focuses on early Zionism, tells the story of the rise of the Zionist idea and statism, and traces the path of the Jewish people to the establishment of the Jewish State. The latter traces the successes and challenges of the next fifty or so years, largely using the wars as markers along the way. The goals of these two curricula include teaching students about the most significant personalities and events on the road to statehood as well as those that enabled the state’s subsequent growth and success, along with the many challenges and difficulties along that road. Through such learning, students develop an appreciation for the heroes of our people and the agents that made the establishment and growth of the State of Israel possible. They become familiar with the opponents of Zionism and the enemies of the State of Israel, responses to the myriad challenges, and the actions undertaken to build a new country. In other words, students learn what it took to establish Israel as the military, economic and political success that it has become. An additional goal of Zionist curricula, sometimes openly acknowledged and sometimes less so, is helping students establish an emotional connection to the Jewish State so that Israel will be a prominent part of their lives as adults, whether in Israel or in the Diaspora.

There are good reasons to teach Zionism and IE from a historical perspective. The historical timeline allows students to appreciate the arc, evolution and development of the Zionist idea, how it took hold, the investment, creativity and resources necessary to bring it to fruition, and how Israel subsequently grew into the strongest military power in the Middle East and an increasingly successful ‘start-up nation’. Nonetheless, teaching about Israel using this chronology is a commonplace that might benefit from further examination. This paper suggests that a different, perhaps complementary, orientation might be in order. In what follows, I propose that a civics orientation to teaching Zionism — particularly to American Zionist students — can serve as an access point to some of the more complex issues in Israel education. Adopting a civics approach need not require abandoning an historical orientation; instead, each could serve an important role by offering something unique to the learner.

We — and certainly our students — tend to view history as an objective discipline, one dedicated to uncovering ‘facts’ and retelling the story ‘as it happened’. At the same time, we are aware of a vast literature casting doubt on that notion. In recent decades, scholars of American history have reopened questions and offered varied understandings of the Founding Fathers, the Civil War and many other events that once seemed static. Similarly, the emergence of the New Historians in the study of Zionism began an enormous historical and cultural debate in Israel and abroad, one that penetrated to the core of Zionist identity. The writing of history is now seen to have more in common with writing literature than we had once assumed. Where we once spoke about historical facts, we now talk about historical narratives. While certainly not fiction, we increasingly recognize that the writing of history is informed by the assumptions and perspectives of the writer. With the growing awareness that one’s perspective informs the way that history is written, we now commonly refer to the “competing narratives” that shape each community’s understanding of its past.

This very history is translated for classroom use in the form of a curriculum. Thus, school curricula require careful scrutiny: whose narratives are being shared? Whose are excluded? What assumptions are embedded in those narratives? Michael Apple in his now classic work Ideology and Curriculum sought to emphasize the responsibility of educators to investigate their curricula with this concern in mind. Drawing on the work of Antonio Gramsci, he compellingly claims that curricular choices are driven by ideologies and commitments. While some level of bias is unavoidable — pure, untainted, ‘true’ curricula do not exist — an awareness of the pitfalls anddangers can help ensure that we are reflective and thoughtful, constantly interrogating and revising our work.

If we take Apple’s claim seriously, our ethical sense requires that we carefully and critically evaluate the curriculum that we are teaching in order to tease out where ideology is driving the narrative and whether a sense of integrity demands that we teach a more complex history, one that articulates the different ways that the story can be told. As it affects Israel Education, this would mean, at times, teaching the “Palestinian narrative” alongside the “Israeli narrative.” The idea of teaching competing narratives in a yeshiva setting is often seen as a betrayal of our Zionist commitments. Although I do not plan to investigate that question deeply in this paper, I do not believe that including multiple perspectives is a betrayal of my profound commitment to Zionism or to Israel; on the contrary, I believe that seeking the greatest possible truth by employing a range of voices is the best way to honor that commitment. However, the tensions raised by the prospect of a more multifaceted curriculum has increased the challenges inherent in exploring the government’s most complex decisions as it strives to balance its obligation to provide security to its people while maintaining the dignity of everyone living within its borders and under its sovereignty. Teaching dual narratives requires us to teach “the other side,” including the voices of those who are viewed as enemies and even terrorists. While many might justify this approach, many understandably see this as the wrong way to teach our students.

One of the practical effects of this double bind is that, while we are moderately successful at teaching the arc of Zionist history, the formation of the state, and Israel through its wars, we have not developed equally compelling curricula that cover the past thirty years, the period of Oslo and the post-Oslo world within which we currently live. As Israel has established more secure borders with its neighboring Arab countries and diplomatic relations with some of them, interactions with the Palestinian population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have become increasingly tense and challenging. The questions of settlements, security, the Intifadas, Palestinian leadership or the lack thereof, nationalisms, refugees, and the status of Jerusalem are all constantly debated and discussed more openly in Israel than in the U.S. For American high school students, there is little, if any, space to learn about these matters in detail. And yet, in order for our students to be engaged adults, knowledgeable enough to participate in the discussion ten and twenty years from now, they must achieve an understanding of the choices that are available to the Israeli government on these issues and an awareness of the debates that Israelis themselves — young and old — engage in regarding these issues. Whether to expand or contract settlements and whether to annex or withdraw from the West Bank do not depend solely on whether we tell the story using an Israeli narrative or a Palestinian narrative. It is a practical and ethical issue that thoughtful young men and women must deeply understand. As Yossi Klein Halevi quipped in earnest, “even if there are no occupied territories, there are occupied people.” This brings us to the power of civics and citizenship education.

Civics and citizenship education courses are designed to teach about the rights and responsibilities of citizens in a democracy. While approaches to civics education differ, they generally seek to train students to think about their society in an engaged way, one that encourages participation in shaping a society that recognizes the rights of individuals and teaches the shared communal values of the polity. Teaching civics in the context of significant political conflict, such as in courses about Israel, can provide students with the opportunity to wrestle with some of the major dilemmas facing Israel’s political leaders and deepen students’ understanding of the high stakes of the issues and the potential impact of decisions on the character and quality of life in their country. Doing so offers students the opportunity to see different sides of the question, with both sides being internal to the Israeli narrative rather than presenting one view as belonging to “the enemy.” This recognition of multiple internal views allows students to more fully appreciate the dilemmas inherent in these questions.

Developing a civics curriculum for Diaspora Zionists thus has the potential to reframe some of the most challenging questions facing Israel today and to relocate the most challenging questions so that both sides of a given challenge can be viewed as internal to strong Zionist education. It also has the capacity to help Diaspora Jews engage in those challenging questions as insiders to the conversation, thus subtly closing the identity gap between Israeli and Diaspora students.

Furthermore, considering a civics approach to Israel Education in the Diaspora has an additional benefit. As members of the Jewish Nation, Diaspora Jews study Jewish history as insiders; they are learning their story. However, when studying Zionism, it is more common for American students to feel like outsiders to the conversation. The Zionist identity of Jewish students in the Diaspora is often tinged with a sense of guilt; we might go so far as to suggest that, for many, they are defined by their outsider status: Jews living outside the space where Zionism is happening. Seen from this perspective, civics and history locate the students in different spaces. History, by definition, is of another time and, perhaps, place. We are all, in a sense, outsiders to the history that we study. Civics, especially the practical issues with which a society wrestles, closes the temporal and spatial gap by allowing the relevant questions to become our questions, the issues that my people are struggling to decide. Giving Diaspora students the opportunity to study civics questions in Israel can help them further develop as insiders to the conversations that take place in Israel. This shifting of perspectives might, in its own, serve as a potential resource to strengthen the relationship between students and educators in Israel and the Diaspora, giving them the tools to engage in such potentially meaningful discussions.

But developing a civics approach to Israel Studies for American Jewish students quickly becomes more complicated than it might seem. American Jewish students are already engaged, either actively or passively, in a different citizenship discourse, an American liberal citizenship discourse that differs from the way that civics and citizenship is conceived in Israel. This initial tension might, in reality, serve as a meaningful opportunity for learning and growth. But first, we must articulate the different types of democratic citizenship discourses that we find in the U.S., Israel and around the world.

Citizenship Discourses
Having proposed the merits of teaching Israel through civics as well as history, we note that not all citizenship discourses are the same. Gershon Shafir and Yoav Peled have articulated three types of citizenship discourses: liberal, republican and ethno-nationalist.1Gershon Shafir and Yoav Peled, Being Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship (Cambridge University Press: 2002) pp. 4-11. Here is a brief description of each:
The liberal discourse of citizenship accents personal liberty and private property, as it views individual, equal, and publicly affirming rights. The individual, in either the utilitarian or contractual liberal view is the sovereign author of her life who pursues her private rational advantage or conception of good, and is not beholden to the community… Republicans, or communitarians, contend that the moral community should foster civic virtue, an idea whose origins lie in the ancient Greeks’ view of politics as the hub of human existence and as life’s supreme fulfillment. For communitarians politics is a communal affair, and citizenship is an enduring political attachment. Citizens are who they are by virtue of participating in the life of their political community, and by identifying with its purpose…

Ethno-nationalism, a version of the nationalist doctrine that originated in German Romanticism and spread from there, is interested not in civil society, but in a different kind of community: the nation or ethnic group. In the ethno- nationalist, or volkisch, approach, citizenship is not an expression of individual rights or of contribution to the common good, but of membership in a homogenous descent group (Greenfeld 1992).2Ibid, pp. 4
It is important to note that all three of these organizational systems can, from a procedural perspective, function as democracies. Free elections, majority rules and some system of checks and balances can be central to any of these societal structures. But each of these models assumes a different kind of relationship between government and citizen.

The liberal discourse of citizenship focuses primarily on “a set of normative expectations specifying the relationship between the nation-state and its individual members which procedurally establish the rights and obligations of members and a set of practices by which these expectations are realized”.3Peled, Ethnic Democracy The individual is an independent entity; the goal of this discourse is to ensure the freedoms of that “unencumbered” individual to act as he or she pleases within the guidelines of the law. The most central value in the liberal democracy is ensuring liberty, to which all other values become secondary.
The republican citizen experiences citizenship as practice (active participation in the determination, protection, and promotion of the common good). The will and capacity to participate constitute one’s civic virtue and are not only an expression but also a condition of citizenship. In this model, the nation-state relies on a spirit of community and the participation of its citizens in the process of shaping society towards establishing shared values and commitments. Here, the relationship between nation-state and community takes priority; the individual is expected to forgo some individual liberties and personal interests for the sake of the greater communal and national interest.
A liberal citizenship discourse is more rights focused while a republican or communitarian citizenship discourse is more participatory. In the former case, equal rights should apply to all citizens. However, it is not clear that all citizens have equal opportunities for participation in republican democracies. (Equality was not a value in Athens). Considered from this perspective, American supporters of the State of Israel and Israeli citizens have long participated in different citizenship discourses. The United States is a liberal democracy of the first order. While there are more republican trends in American political thinking, America primarily champions civil liberties. The State of Israel, from its founding rooted in halutziyut (pioneering), participation in the military and a socialist agenda, has a more communitarian culture.

Even more distinctively, scholars have categorized Israel as having an ethnic citizenship model. The Law of Return, established in 1950, and the subsequent Nationality Law — perhaps the very establishment of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state — point to Israel as enacting this third type of citizenship, rooted in the national and ethnic elements that bind the majority of its citizens together.
Jews in Israel and in the U.S. clearly reside in countries that are guided by distinct citizenship discourses, each with its own set of priorities and characteristics. It is reasonable to suggest that the growing divide between Israel and Diaspora Jewish communities is deeply informed and shaped by these different discourses: liberal American Jews and ethno-nationalist Israeli Jews are, in some measure, speaking different political languages.
This divide raises a crucial educational question for Religious Zionists living in the US. Our students are ostensibly raised, in some measure, with allegiances to both of these discourses. Might we and our children, in a semi-conscious way, be absorbing distinct value systems for distinct communities and populations to whom we have dual allegiances? Should we attempt to disentangle these discourses? How might greater awareness of this distinction inform our students’ insight? Might it afford them a unique “binocular” perspective, that processing and comparing different citizenship discourses might promote different responses to similar questions and circumstances?

Before turning to these questions, I introduce one more set of theoretical considerations. Each of the citizenship discourses describes a model of rights and obligations that the nation-state might confer on its members that, in turn, informs the expectations that the state might have of its citizens and the responsibilities that citizens might have toward the state. These different models of citizenship interact with different regimes or models of government. The institutional regime within which one lives creates different citizenship possibilities. One might be a citizen of a democracy, monarchy or military dictatorship. The nature of the regime will, of course, inform the range of possibilities of citizen rights in the given regime. For example, while both the U.S. and Israel are democracies, they are democracies of different sorts. This means that while democracies might share procedural commitments and values, they might differ in terms of the equality of membership and status of all of its citizens.

Democracy and Minority Rights
Sammy Smooha, building on the work of Arend Lijphart and Will Kymlicka, has written extensively on different types of democracy, focusing specifically on the different ways that democracies manage minority populations within their midst. The starting point for these scholars’ explorations is an acceptance that, in reality, countries are ethnically and culturally diverse. While, on the one hand, the idea of a nation state provides opportunity for national self determination and for members of the nation to express themselves culturally, it is also unrealistic to assume that all citizens of any nation will be members of that national culture. Minority populations will always exist within the larger nation state. With that fact in mind, Smooha establishes criteria for distinguishing between the different types of democracy based on the constitutional relationship between the dominant, or core, ethnic group, the state, and the minority group(s). As Smooha explains, scholars distinguish among three types of democracy:
“In a liberal democracy, such as the United States, ethnicity is privatized. The state does not legislate or intervene in ethnic cleavages, but forges a homogeneous nation-state by setting up uniform language, identity, nationalism, and national institutions for its citizens. It provides conditions for acculturation and assimilation, but also allows ethnic groups to remain socially separate and culturally distinct…In a consociational democracy, such as Belgium, ethnicity is accepted as a major principle in the organization of the state…[E]thnic groups are also officially recognized and granted certain rights, such as control over education and allocation of public posts on a proportional basis…In Herrenvolk democracy, democracy is confined to the master race or group and is forcibly denied to other groups.”4Smooha, 1999, pp. 199-200. South Africa prior to 1994 was considered a Herrenvolk democracy.

Using this model as well, we can distinguish between the United States and Israel. The U.S. is clearly a liberal democracy, seeking to privatize ethnicity and support multicultural expression and minority rights while Israel is a democracy of a different sort. In fact. Smooha won the Israel Prize for his work in identifying a fourth type of democracy, one that he thinks best describes Israeli democracy. He calls it ethnic democracy. In ethnic democracy, “the ethnic nation, not the citizenry, shapes the symbols, laws and policies of the state for the benefit of the majority”.5Peled and Navot, 2005, p.5; Smooha, 2002, p. 477. Ethnicity is not privatized, as in a liberal democracy, nor are multiple ethnicities recognized as constituting the state, as in Belgium or Quebec. In Israel, one ethnicity shapes the culture and life of the country while a significant minority is not granted similar cultural status. At the same time, Israel is a functioning democracy with free elections and a representative government.

Here too, Jews in the US and Israel are living in democracies that have procedural similarities but are rooted in different conceptions of democracy. The US is a liberal democracy, making ethnicity a private matter and fostering multicultural expression and, to a meaningful degree, minority rights. Israel is an ethnic democracy, where the ethnic majority shapes the public sphere in a deep way, one that shapes the minority experience in a manner that is profoundly different from the minority experience in America. Again, it is easy to imagine that these different conceptions contribute to the deepening divide between the Israeli and American Jewish communities. As for our students and their parents, members of the Religious Zionist community in America, we are actively engaged in two discourses with two different types of democracy — one where we live as a minority community in a liberal democracy and one where we are deeply invested in the flourishing of an ethnic democracy where Jews are the majority population shaping the culture in so many ways.

Is this dual engagement merely confusing or does it offer an opportunity for deeper understanding? Perhaps the dual perspectives can afford our students unique perspective regarding some of the crucial issues and dilemmas of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Does the opportunity for “binocular” vision provide our students with a chance to engage these issues from multiple perspectives, where we, in an internal communal conversation, can weigh the different values against each other, with the capacity to view those questions from both the majority and minority, the liberal and ethnic perspectives? The answers to these questions depend on the educational orientation of the institution. Just as we have identified several types of citizenship and democracy discourses, there are, in turn, several types of citizenship and civics education discourses. Citizenship education itself can be oriented towards different goals and political theories.

Civics Education and Education for Nationhood
In the preface to her book Liberal Nationalism, Yael Tamir notes that every political theory must have a corresponding theory of education in order to sustain itself over successive generations.6Yael Tamir, Liberal Nationalism, 1993, p. Xvi. This segment is based on ibid., pp. xvi-xxx. This categorization helps us understand the relationship between state and school and the way that schools become part of the “state apparatus.” Tamir traces how educating for citizenship and educating for statehood, although importantly distinct ideas, came to be seen as one and the same during the rise of the nation-state. This merged, two-fold civics education seeks to develop a citizenship with shared ideas and values that are in support of the state, an approach that emphasizes the supposed homogeneity of the population.
It was only a matter of time before “members of disempowered national minorities soon discovered that a set of formal civic rights is insufficient to ensure them equal status, and they realized that they faced a choice between two evils: they could remain estranged and marginalized or integrate at the price of self-effacement. This is the dilemma Diaspora Jews are often forced to face and which the establishment of the State of Israel was meant to resolve.”7 Ibid., p. xxv. Jews in Europe and in the United States experienced first hand the challenges of being a national minority in their host countries; and now, Jews experience the power that comes with sovereignty. As such, the nation of Jews is uniquely positioned to carefully consider the ethics of power and the powerless in the following way.

Countries are culturally diverse. This means that the existence of minority cultures in the presence of the majority culture will inevitably raise questions of equal rights to cultural expression, language, representation, schooling and many other issues. Education promoting nationhood may encourage a homogeneity that can be oppressive to the minority cultures living in the state. Educating toward liberal citizenship can compromise on developing strong national identity. As Jews living as a minority in the United States, we are naturally inclined towards liberal citizenship, an arrangement that best allows us to flourish as practicing Jewish Americans. As Jews living as a majority in a Jewish state, we naturally incline towards strong Jewish national identity.
Given this theoretical framework, how should we educate our Religious Zionist students? As American Religious Zionists, we live in competing discourses. We believe in liberal democracy and we seek to teach commitment to national Jewish identity. Can we accomplish both? Does the “American” side of the curriculum teach liberal democratic citizenship values while the Zionist side of the curriculum teaches nationalist values? Is it possible to integrate these values and commitments?

A comparative civics course offers the possibility to explore questions of citizenship and democracy from dual perspectives, as American citizens and American Zionists. Indeed, “the core of civic education may be learning to talk and listen with other people about public problems…The most promising pedagogy is to discuss current events with a moderator…Considerable evidence shows that moderated discussions of current, controversial issues increase students’ knowledge of civic processes, their skills at engaging with other people, and their interest in politics.”8Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Civic Education, p. 42. With this in mind, it is possible that pursuing this course of study can help our students gain a deeper understanding of themselves as Americans and as Zionists. It will provide an opportunity to compare their understanding of minority rights as Americans with the complexities of the decisions regarding Arab minority populations in Israel, themselves Israeli citizens, as well as Palestinians on the West Bank, who are not. They can better achieve an ‘insider’ understanding of some of the questions regarding Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. It might even strengthen our student body to, as they mature, serve as a bridge of understanding between the liberal Jewish population in America and the ethno-nationalist citizens of Israel.
In the next section, we will explore a few examples of how this binocular orientation might create a rich internal learning opportunity for our students, as Americans and as Zionists.

Three Examples
1. The Nation State Law
On July 19, 2018, Israel’s Knesset passed Basic Law: Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People. In certain respects, this law formally declares values that have been central to Israeli national identity for virtually its entire existence. The law declares that “the land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established” and “The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in which it fulfills its natural, cultural, religious, and historical right to self-determination.” Nevertheless, the law was subject to intense criticism by many, including numerous Jewish organizations. Some of the criticism focused on timing; was it necessary or helpful to make such a declaration at that time, even if there is general agreement as to its content? Others, however, critiqued certain specific elements of the Basic Law.

The segments quoted above are Articles 1-A and 1-B of the law. Article 1-C states, “The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” Israel’s population consists of a majority Jewish and minority Arab population. The Jewish population numbers 6.7 million (74.8%) and the Arab population 1.9 million (20.9%).9https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/latest-population-statistics-for-israel 10 Yael Tamir, Liberal Nationalism, Chapter 3. Article 1-C grants the right of national self-determination uniquely to the Jewish people. Does this deny that right to minority populations, in this case the Arab population?

In order to consider this question, we need to clarify the “right to national self determination.” Is that a right to political self determination or cultural self determination? Does existence as a nation (in contrast to a ‘nation-state’) necessarily imply existence as a political or governing entity?10 Should minority populations have the right to cultural self-determination within a state whose majority is rooted in a different sort of cultural expression and values? There are multinational states that incorporate both the majority and minority nations into the political arrangement (such as Belgium and Canada). Again, should collective minorities be granted a right to national self determination within the larger nation-state? What might that look like? Scholars and educators can collaborate to design a civics and citizenship curriculum unit that explores these questions. Students can learn of these issues and then consider them carefully.

In a liberal democracy, the inclination might lean more naturally towards support for collective rights of the minority population. Over the course of the twentieth century, Jews in America struggled to achieve a right to such self expression and so, for Jews in America, this idea was crucial to their ability to thrive. Horace Kallen, himself a Zionist American Jew, is credited with popularizing the term ‘cultural pluralism,’ shifting the focus of American democracy from the the melting pot — blending difference until it disappears — to the salad bowl, championing the right of each minority community to express its culture and values publicly, safely and with confidence. In contrast, in an ethnic democracy, the existence of the state is rooted in the ethnocultural character of the majority population. Someone living in a Jewish or Muslim or Hindu state should expect, according to this thinking, to be surrounded by the cultural symbols of the governing body. While the citizen should be assured of basic freedoms and equal rights as an individual – and perhaps even minority rights as a distinct minority community – those freedoms and rights would be provided in the context of a governing ethnocracy.
Considered from this comparative perspective, many assumed positions require further analysis. For example, should an American Zionist be permitted to hang an Israeli flag on the front of her house? Should an Israeli Arab be permitted to hang a Palestinian flag on his? Is there a difference between these circumstances? If so, how might one justify such a difference?

Would members of a liberal democracy think differently about this question than citizens of an ethnic democracy? I propose that 1) it would be enlightening and important for our students to consider, for example, the Basic Law: Nation-State, as American Religious Zionists, able to consider the question from a binocular, dual-civics perspective – as liberal American democrats and ethno-national Zionist democrats. 2) This might open possibilities for the kind of substantive dialogue that could be generated between Israel and the Diaspora, one that makes clear why both voices are important to establishing a strong State of Israel and a strong Jewish nation around the world.

2. Language
Article 4 of the recent Nation-State Basic Law focuses on language:
A. The state’s language is Hebrew.
B. The Arabic language has a special status in the state; Regulating the use of Arabic in state institutions or by them will be set in law.
C. This clause does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect.
Many countries have official languages recognized by law, affecting when and how that language must be used. Many multinational states recognize more than one official language. In Canada, for example, English and French are both official languages.
During the British Mandate, three languages, English, Hebrew and Arabic, were all considered official languages in Israel. After declaring independence, Israel amended the law, removing English and leaving Hebrew and Arabic as official languages. It is in this context that Article 4 has received much of the criticism that has been directed towards the Basic Law. In historical context, the language of the law suggests a downgrade in the status of Arabic as an official language in Israel. At the same time, the law explicitly states that it does not harm the status given to the Arabic language until this point.

The question for students to consider is this: with the recognition that 1) Israel is a Jewish and democratic state with a significant Jewish majority and an Arab (20%) minority and 2) some countries have one official language while some multinational countries choose to have two official languages, how would you have written that Article of the Basic Law if you were serving on that committee? Why?10In a recent conversation, General Ali Shukri, head of King Hussein of Jordan’s private office from 1976-1999, proudly shared with me the story of his grandfather, Hassan Bey Shukri, who was appointed mayor of Haifa in 1914 by the Turks. In 1927, he described, his grandfather insisted that all municipal offices and documents use Hebrew in addition to Arabic in order to support the acculturation of the growing Jewish population. Instinctively, as a Jew, I was inspired by his story. When I shared this story, a colleague noted that I consider how the story might be seen through binocular lenses” why might others object to that decision? How might this situation be seen as parallel to similar situations in America?
One might view this question differently depending on the political vocabulary with which one was raised. The conceptual framework of a liberal democrat pushes one to think differently about this question than a consociational democrat and an ethnic democrat differently from both of the others. Teaching comparative civics can give our students a range of tools, languages and concepts through which to understand the different points of view of the various Jewish constituents and, again, deepen their understanding of some undergirdings of the Israeli and Jewish-American divide.

3. Permanent Resident Status
In 1967, the IDF, in a near-miraculous turn of events, captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem, placing a momentous decision before the Israeli government. Should it maintain control of the territories they had captured? If so, how would the status of the Arabs living in those areas be determined?
The international community largely views the occupation of these territories as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Settling those areas is seen as a violation of the clause prohibiting population transfer to an occupied area. The Israeli government has posited that maintaining control and settling those areas is not in violation of the Geneva Convention since 1) legally the land was not taken from another country because the terms of the original Partition Plan were not adhered to and 2) the prohibition is against “forcible transfer” of population, while the settlers move to those areas voluntarily. Our focus in this example will be specifically on East Jerusalem and, in particular, on the civic status of East Jerusalem Arabs — that of Permanent Resident — which was established in 1967 and has remained so for over fifty years.

Determining the status of East Jerusalem and its citizens was enormously complex. On the one hand, the desire for that territory to be under Israeli rule was evident; on the other, the reality of a large Arab population, presumably not looking to be citizens of the Jewish State, made it very difficult to annex the territory and its citizens. Relinquishing authority over the Old City and its environs was impossible to fathom. In 1967, the government passed the Law and Administration Decree (no.1) according to which “The territory of the Land of Israel described in the appendix is hereby determined as the territory to which the state’s law, jurisdiction and administration apply.”11See Talia Sasson, Permanent Residency: A Temporary Status Set in Stone, (Jerusalem: 2012), p. 13. http://www.ir-amim.org.il/en/report/permanent-residency-temporary-status-set-stone This decree established Israeli legal authority over East Jerusalem without officially annexing the territory — in effect, a de-facto annexation. However, the government did not impose Israeli citizenship on the Palestinians of East Jerusalem, given their understanding that citizenship was not universally desired, to say the least, by East Jerusalem Arabs. The Palestinians were — and are — able to apply for citizenship but largely decline to do so. Caught between these realities, Israel granted Palestinians of East Jerusalem “permanent resident” status.

Permanent resident status should provide for equal opportunity for education, social services and the right to vote in municipal elections. Not being Israeli citizens, however, permanent residents may not vote in national elections. They may not run for office in any elections or serve as board or executive members of, for example, the Jerusalem Development Authority, which has broad powers concerning the planning and development of Jerusalem.12Oshrat Maimon and Tamar Luster, ibid, p. 34.

The issue became further complicated when, in July 1988, Jordan severed its administrative relationship with the West Bank and East Jerusalem and, in November of 1988, the PLO declared Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian state. These moves left the Jerusalem Palestinians as citizens of no country with no government for which they could vote or in which to participate. They had Jordanian passports, were permanent residents of Israel, and were loyal to the Palestinian Authority, a government that did not have jurisdiction over them.
This complexity is often interpreted from a political perspective: does this series of developments reflect Israel’s long-term desire to deepen its control of Jerusalem and pressure the Arabs until they leave the city? Or is it a sign that the Palestinians refuse to acknowledge Israel as a legitimate sovereign in the region or, at least, over East Jerusalem? When phrased as binary questions, each participant in the debate quickly takes a side. When seen from the perspective of conflict, we see two opposing narratives in bitter disagreement. From this vantage point, learning about permanent resident status translates into learning the Israeli and the Palestinian perspectives on the issue. Looked at from a civics perspective, however, shifts the discussion slightly but meaningfully to an internal discussion of values and tradeoffs, of balancing democracy and security, of nationalism and cosmopolitanism, of what is the essence of ‘the city’ and ‘the populace.’

Here, too, questions of citizenship can become a unique entry point towards a deeper understanding of some of the contemporary questions confronting the State of Israel. Studying citizenship can open these discussions in a manner distinct from more conventional historical approaches. In addition, the unique positioning of our Diaspora students can offer the possibility of a comparative study of civics and citizenship that enables them to understand the American liberal Jewish community as well as the Israeli nationalist discourse. This dual insight can better prepare them to serve as a bridge between these discourses, shifting the trajectory from two communities drifting apart to one larger community looking at the same issues with “binocular vision”.

1. Civics and citizenship studies offer a unique entry point into some of the more complex issues in Israel Education.
2. The civics orientation allows us to explore the complexities from an ‘internal’ perspective — one which pushes us to clarify our own internal values and commitments — rather than opening the discussion through ‘competing narratives’.
3. This approach can help Diaspora students develop more of an ‘insider’ perspective to some of the core challenges and dilemmas facing the State of Israel, complementing the more retrospective historical approach.
4. Embracing the positioning of American Religious Zionist students to engage in dual citizenship discourses can better prepare them to bring the discourses together in a mutually enhancing way, even working towards bridging the gap between liberal American and Israeli nationalist discourses.

  • 1
    Gershon Shafir and Yoav Peled, Being Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship (Cambridge University Press: 2002) pp. 4-11.
  • 2
    Ibid, pp. 4
  • 3
    Peled, Ethnic Democracy
  • 4
    Smooha, 1999, pp. 199-200.
  • 5
    Peled and Navot, 2005, p.5; Smooha, 2002, p. 477.
  • 6
    Yael Tamir, Liberal Nationalism, 1993, p. Xvi. This segment is based on ibid., pp. xvi-xxx.
  • 7
    Ibid., p. xxv.
  • 8
    Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Civic Education, p. 42.
  • 9
    https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/latest-population-statistics-for-israel 10 Yael Tamir, Liberal Nationalism, Chapter 3.
  • 10
    In a recent conversation, General Ali Shukri, head of King Hussein of Jordan’s private office from 1976-1999, proudly shared with me the story of his grandfather, Hassan Bey Shukri, who was appointed mayor of Haifa in 1914 by the Turks. In 1927, he described, his grandfather insisted that all municipal offices and documents use Hebrew in addition to Arabic in order to support the acculturation of the growing Jewish population. Instinctively, as a Jew, I was inspired by his story. When I shared this story, a colleague noted that I consider how the story might be seen through binocular lenses” why might others object to that decision? How might this situation be seen as parallel to similar situations in America?
  • 11
    See Talia Sasson, Permanent Residency: A Temporary Status Set in Stone, (Jerusalem: 2012), p. 13. http://www.ir-amim.org.il/en/report/permanent-residency-temporary-status-set-stone
  • 12
    Oshrat Maimon and Tamar Luster, ibid, p. 34.
Rabbi Tully Harcsztark

Rabbi Tully Harcsztark

Rabbi Harcsztark is the Founding Principal of SAR High School and Dean of Machon Siach. He is the recipient of the 2017 Covenant Award for Excellence in Jewish Education.

Other Work by this Educator