Israeli Schools Ban Israeli-Arab Romance Novel For ‘Threatening Jewish Identity’

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Blake Neff Reporter
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The education ministry of Israel sparked a political uproar after it banned a romance novel from being taught in schools because it pairs a Jewish Israeli woman with a Palestinian man.

Dorit Rabinyan’s “Gader Haya” (called “Borderlife” in English) had already been approved for use in advanced literature classes by a panel of teachers and professors, but the education ministry (which controls school curricula) rejected it anyway, largely on the grounds that it could threaten Israel’s Jewish identity.

“Intimate relations between Jews and non-Jews threatens the separate identity [of each,]” the ministry said, according to Haaretz. “Young people of adolescent age don’t have the systemic view that includes considerations involving maintaining the national-ethnic identity of the people and the significance of miscegenation.”

Intermarriage is a major issue for many Israeli Jews, who fear Judaism becoming diluted and ultimately assimilated into the wider culture. Two years ago, a minor scandal erupted in Israel when news outlets reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son was romantically involved with a non-Jewish Norwegian woman.

Among Israeli Jews and Arabs, though, intermarriage is very rare.

Several authors and politicians, particularly those on the left, are irate over the decision. Author and pro-Palestine advocate Sami Michael said it was a “dark day for Hebrew literature,” and novelist Haim Be’er described the move as “dizzying and dangerous.”

“This is none of [Education Minister] Naftali Bennett’s business,” Be’er told Haaretz. “Tomorrow he will disqualify ‘Behind the Fence’ because [Haim] Bialik’s hero falls in love with a Christian and he’ll create a committee to monitor relationships in literature.”

Merav Michaeli, a member of the Knesset for the left-wing Zionist Union coalition, said the move was gross discrimination against Israel’s Arab population.

“Hordes of Arabs are on their way to the polling stations, Arabs are taking our girls – these are two sides of the same coin,” Michaeli said. “In a place where people are disqualified, it’s clear that books that represent them as humans are also disqualified.”

In response to the backlash, ministry official Dalia Fenig pointed out that several other books on the approved list deal with relationships between Jews and non-Jews, and that was another reason the book was left out. She also told Israel’s Army Radio the book could “incite hatred” in the classroom, although Israel’s education system generally keeps Jews and Arabs separated.

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