The Perception of the Other and the Holocaust in Israeli Education
The perception of the Other instilled through education in Israel is a product of the mainstream, dominating culture, i.e., of a culture that is Jewish-Zionist, Ashkenazi (European-American), male-militaristic. The educational system includes almost no manifestations of any of the repressed cultures in Israeli society: Palestinian culture, Oriental Jewish culture, women/s sub-culture, etc.
In Israeli education the Other is anyone who is different from us/ either in nationality (such as Palestinians), or language (such as new immi¬grants), or skin color (such as Ethiopian Jews), or appearance (such as vic¬tims of cerebral palsy), or ethnicity (such as Georgian Jews), or merely in his or her unwillingness to conform and be like everyone else. The educa¬tional system channels children into the mainstream. The products of its success are those who have adopted the prevalent views of this stream, that is of the dominating culture.

Portraying the Other

Schools and kindergartens teach and convey messages that conform to the consensus prevailing in Israeli society. The enemies of the people - the Arabs - have been portrayed over the years of our children's education, within a dichotomy of good guys vs. bad guys. No differentiation is made between their various groups and all evil is projected onto the others. The conflicts endured by Jews throughout their history are depicted, along with Jewish tradition, in black and white terms, as absolute right vs. absolute wrong, or as winners vs. losers. These historical conflicts are con¬flated with the present-day conflict and the current enemy, i.e., the Arabs. The central message conveyed through Israeli education has emphasized the national unity of the people vis-a.-vis the enemy. We must protect our¬selves as victims from them. This is a constant imperative although "they" change identity over time ("In every generation they attempt our annihilation," from the Pessah Haggadah).

A Wound of Persecution

The peace talks, since the meetings between the late Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, face the educational system with a complexity it has never experienced. The peace process has introduced a new alternative into the repertoire of this system. It shows the other side in a human light. These new times will require new emphases and messages of the educational system.
The simplistic messages conveyed by and in this system result, I believe, from the syndrome of power vs. helplessness which rules our lives. The internal world-view of many Jews who live in the State of Israel is the world-view of the persecuted. Our collective memory of our parents' and grandparents' suffering in the Holocaust, makes us susceptible to fears and sensibilities beyond our choice and control. As second-generation survivors of the Holocaust (of which I am one), we have forged an inter¬nal reality characterized by aggressiveness, vulnerability, anger and guilt. "We won't let it happen to us": we are strong and threatening and, "We'll break their bones" if they dare hurt us.
In fact, though, we are vulnerable and weak. Every terrorist attack reminds us of what happened there. Accordingly, our reactions contain an endless anger at what was done to us. We carry survivors' guilt. We therefore find it difficult, as a society, to account for our own evil and our own mistakes.
It is only lately that we have begun to scrutinize the myth that "they went like sheep to the slaughter," and this too, not yet in the educational system. We also allow ourselves to ignore our own racism. We project all evil onto the Other, our enemy.
This provides our justification for the demonization of the enemy, for a world-view consisting of absolute truths, in which everyone who is dif¬ferent from us is evil. Especially Arabs. (But also blacks-Ethiopians, weak¬lings-disabled, etc.)


The victim psychology stemming from the collective trauma of the Holocaust dictates our cultural dynamic and the education of our chil¬dren. It is a twofold message claiming, "The whole world's against us," and "Everyone wants to destroy us," on the one hand, and heroism, com¬bat and strength to remedy helplessness, on the other. Protecting human rights is not presented as a possible answer to the incessant persecution suffered by generations of Jews. Our educational system presents the Jewish-Arab conflict as a struggle for survival.
According to this school, anti-Semitism is the major factor deciding rela¬tions between Israel and other nations. Children are made to learn a chronology of 2,000 years of anti-Semitism, in contexts as disparate as the Middle Ages, the expulsion from Spain and the pogroms in Czarist Russia. The story of Massada, where zealot Jews killed their children, their wives and finally committed suicide to avoid capture by the Romans, has turned into a national myth, a symbol of strength and heroism. The expression "Massada will not fall again" has become analogous with the establish¬ment of the State of Israel and its victories in wars against the Arabs.
The selection of messages conveyed to children from very early on through Jewish education in Israel, stresses particularism rather than universality, aggression over humanism, gut emotion over rationality, dis¬allowing the possibility of alternative analyses.

History's Victims

The symptom of helplessness is at the root of the myth, "They went like sheep to the slaughter" is opposed to "Had the State of Israel existed, things would have been altogether different." This is also the justification for every act performed by our military. Everything we do counts as a struggle for survival, for our lives.
Characteristic of the Jewish people living in the shadow of the Holocaust is an inability to find equilibrium between power and helplessness. Former Foreign Minister Abba Eban has said, "We must dis¬tinguish between the psychology of our vulnerability and the reality of our power." The current flow of youth groups to Auschwitz and Treblinka has become a display of nationalism and strength on the graves of the helpless Jews slaughtered in Europe during World War II.
Alternative survival strategies (making peace, for instance) lie outside this consciousness and, accordingly, outside of school curricula. The Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979, for example, is not studied in schools to this day. The educational system imbues these messages directly, in classrooms, and less directly through memorial services held on Holocaust Day, a week before Independence Day, to which it is firmly linked. In the opinion of many of its citizens, the State of Israel is the answer to the Holocaust and the Arabs represent the outside forces striving for our destruction (succeeding the Nazis), simply one more instance in the long history of our triumphant and defiant struggle to survive.
This veil of feelings originating in the collective identity of first-, second- and third-generation survivors of the Jewish Holocaust, makes some of us unable to distinguish between our feelings of victimization ¬rooted elsewhere - and the reality of our existence here and now. In the absence of such a separation, every terrorist act becomes anti-Semitic, directed against Jews for the sole reason of their Jewishness. This in turn leads to the conclusion that the struggle against the enemy is a fight to the death, justifying any and every act, regardless of its price: extended cur¬fews imprisoning large [Palestinian] populations within their homes, human-rights abuses, enforced poverty for a population of close to two million, shootings of demonstrators and innocent bystanders.

Education Lags Behind

Our self-perception was that of helpless victim. This is no nightmare risen out of the void. It is a feeling based on real traumas experienced by both individuals and the collective constituency of the nation. The Arab nations did indeed pose a threat, the Nazis did indeed devise the "final solution." However, for many years now our physical survival has not been in doubt.
In the political sphere, accumulating peace agreements between Israel and its former enemies clearly emphasizes the changing reality. But the educational field has not yet adapted. It does not yet convey the tools and features necessary for a country's survival in today's world.
The victim mentality provides our justification and our emotional grounds for still viewing our enemies as demons, for continuing to fight for the Jews burned in Nazi death camps, powerless to fight back. Although Hitler failed in annihilating the Jewish people physically, I believe in one sense he won. He succeeded in conditioning us to incessant fear of our physical annihilation, giving us a survivors' psychology.
The historiography of the period following 1945 is taught in Israeli schools as a military history, focusing on Israeli-Arab wars. Other aspects, such as economic, cultural, social tensions are mentioned only in passing. Not studied are Palestinian or Egyptian culture, alternative viewpoints, public controversy, dilemmas, internal contradictions and the complexity of reality. Students are not taught that different standpoints generate very different histories. Now, as the peace option is becoming a reality, this narrow view of history will have to be broadened. The option of peace and a universal view of men, women and humanity will have to be presented.