Progressives in Israel push anti-IDF agenda on schoolchildren

Left-wing coalition partners support the Arab MK’s proposal, while the Right say it crosses a “red line.”

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

In a move that threatens to shake the government’s stability, an MK from the Opposition’s Arab Joint List party tried introducing a bill Sunday to legislate the learning in all state schools of a 65-year-old tragedy.

Aida Touma-Suleiman, who refers to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 as the Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe) and is a member of the Hadash (Communist) faction in the Joint List, introduced the bill. It has the support of the Islamist Ra’am and leftist Meretz parties for the “Kafr Qassem” Law, which would give official state recognition of the Kafr Qassem murders that took place in the village by that name during the 1956 Suez War, aka the second Arab-Israeli war, and make it a mandatory part of the curricula.

On October 29, 1956, the first day of the Suez War, the IDF expected Jordan to join the war on Egypt’s side. To help ensure quiet, the nightly curfew of 7 p.m. was brought forward to 5 p.m. in Arab villages that sat on the border with what was then part of Jordan, including Kafr Qassem. Border Police were ordered to shoot those who went outside after curfew.

IDF reservists killed 49 Arab villagers who were unaware of the curfew. Those responsible were brought to justice and the government paid reparations to the families.

The case became the sine qua non in Israel of the duty of soldiers to disobey patently illegal orders. As was pointed out in the trial, in many other locations, including other parts of Kafr Qassem, the soldiers did not shoot villagers when it was obvious that they simply did not know of the new curfew.

“I am a grandson of a survivor of the massacre…others in my family died,” stated Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej (Meretz) in a radio interview on Kan Reshet Bet. “I’m in politics to prevent such things in the future. Teaching such an issue in school so that we learn not to make such mistakes in the future is more important than any political considerations.”

Frej said this is not an issue that should cause the fall of the coalition, as it is “an educational issue, an ethical one, an issue of how one builds a normal society.”

Right-wing politicians opposed the bill, defeating it Sunday in the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. Frej said that he would work with both Opposition and coalition members to formulate a mutually agreeable text, but the right-wing parties told Kan News that it’s not going to succeed.

“Kafr Qassem and similar topics are a red line and we won’t agree to any compromise on the issue,” they said, which could mean a coalition crisis is in the offing despite Frej’s opinion.

This is not Touma-Suleiman’s first attempt to pass such a law. Last year the Knesset debated it as well, when she defended the need for the legislation by saying that “recognizing the harm is a necessary stage in its repair.”

Former deputy education minister Meir Porush then countered her claim that the massacre was not being taught, saying that it is brought up in the (mandatory) civics course in high school, in the section the students learn on illegal army orders.

In 2007, then-president Shimon Peres came to Kafr Qassem and formally apologized for what had happened, saying he “deeply regretted” the “difficult incident.” In 2014, Reuven Rivlin became the first sitting Israeli president to attend the village’s annual commemoration, calling it “an atrocious massacre” and a “severe crime” that weighed heavily on Israel’s collective conscience, but stopped short of apologizing.