Should classes on Israel at Jewish schools teach students how to defend Israel from its critics? This is just one of the questions Jewish educators are faced with, according to Aaron Bregman, director of high school affairs at the American Jewish Committee.
When he was a teacher at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Bregman taught high school students about Israel and American Jewish history. Recently, he attended a virtual conference, organized by the Center for Israel Education, that focused on what to teach students and how to teach it.
One argument some educators make is that by including Israel advocacy in a class on Israeli history, it becomes harder to study Israel and all its flaws in an objective way, said Bregman, a District resident.
Bregman said that some educators believe that, in a rigorous academic environment, a history teacher should aim for impartiality and a lack of bias, and try to separate advocacy, including advocacy for Israel, from historical context. It is a view that Bregman concurs with.
“There needs to be separation,” Bregman said. “I believe that Israel advocacy and hasbarah [public relations in favor of Israel] is incredibly important, something that students need, but I do believe [it should] be separate from the classroom environment.”
Another issue educators wrestle with is how to teach the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Bregman said. There are some who feel that classrooms devote too much time to these conflicts, at the expense of Israeli history, culture, society and politics, he said.
“Sometimes you can find ways to step back from that and focus on the broader goals of, say, Israeli democracy, Israeli law, in trying to have a better understanding about Israeli society, rather than make it solely about Israelis and Palestinians,” said Bregman.
Other educators want to see a relatively equal balance between covering these subjects and the conflicts with Palestinians and Arab nations, Bregman said.
The question of whether Arab-Israeli conflicts should be discussed in a particular class can depend on a number of different factors, Bregman continued. These include the subject matter and goals of the class, as well as the age and maturity level of the students.
“Long story short, there’s a mixed consensus on what exactly needs to be taught when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict versus what needs to be taught about Israeli society,” Bregman said. “Some people feel that you should zoom out more, whereas other people believe that the focus needs to give students all the sort of background information about how the conflict has been formed, where we are today, in order to give them a broader understanding.”