Not Only Jews

Will the Holocaust be diminished if Israeli schools include lessons on other genocides?
Published: 1994-04-08

Tel Aviv — A plan to teach Israeli high school students that the Holocaust was not history's only genocide — that it also happened to other peoples like the Armenians and Gypsies — has touched some sensitive nerves here.

Last fall, the people in charge of curriculum in Israeli schools enthusiastically gave the go-ahead to develop such a lesson plan, to be titled "Sensitivity to Suffering in the World." But about a month ago, when the Israeli media inaccurately reported that the Armenian and Gypsy genocides were to be lumped together with the teaching of the Holocaust, there were some loud protests, especially from Yad Vashem.

Now, education officials are publicly backing away from their earlier endorsement of the program, saying nothing has been decided — even though written protocols of their meetings tell a different story. Dr. Yair Oron, the educator who proposed the lesson plan and got the Education Ministry's approval to develop it, is quietly going ahead with his work.

He expects that the subject of genocide will be taught as a pilot program in teacher seminaries this summer and in some high schools this fall — unless the controversy surrounding the idea flares up again and kills it.

The dispute is an old but still explosive one — whether Israelis should be taught that the Holocaust was only about the annihilation of European Jews, or that it was also about man's general inhumanity to man.

Dr. Oron, who teaches Contemporary Jewish Studies at Tel Aviv's Hakibbutzim Teachers Seminary and previously developed educational programs at Yad Vashem, sides with the latter interpretation, even if it is a minority plank in Israel. He came up with the idea for "Sensitivity to Suffering in the World" after his research showed that teachers in training, especially those headed for religious and ultra-Orthodox schools, took to heart the "Jewish" and "Zionist" lessons of the Holocaust much more so than the "universal" ones.

In an informal survey, he found that hardly any teacher candidates had even heard of the Armenian genocide, in which an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered by the Turks during and immediately after World War I.

"If I demand that the world know the Holocaust, I have to also demand that my own people address the genocide of the Armenians and Gypsies," Dr. Oron said. (Some 250,000-500,000 Gypsies were wiped out by the Nazis.)

In a Dec. 28 statement, the Education Ministry said "Sensitivity to Suffering in the World" would include: "The questions of morals, values, theology, philosophy and politics that arise as a result of our awareness of the tragedies that befall others. In addition, an attempt [will be made] to clarify if there is, and what is, the special significance of our identity as Jews — victims of genocide (the Holocaust) — in our approaches to the tragedies of other peoples."

In approving the development of the lesson plan, Prof. David Gordon, chairman of the curriculum committee, was quoted in the protocol as saying:"In many cases the lesson [learned from the Holocaust] is Jewish-Zionist and not universal..and there are those who go even further [by stressing] that we have to be strong and place security before everything else, and that in the name of security you can do things that otherwise would be unacceptable."

The program, however, would not in any way equate the Armenian and Gypsy genocides with the Holocaust. It would teach the matter of genocide as a wholly separate subject from the Holocaust, Drs. Gordon and Oron said in recent interviews.

But after some Israeli newspapers wrongly reported that Holocaust studies in the high schools were going to be opened up to include the mass murders of Armenians and Gypsies, Avner Shalev, chairman of Yad Vashem, blasted the idea.

In the press and in a televised debate with Dr. Oron, Mr. Shalev said "Sensitivity to Suffering in the World" would "blur the unique Jewish character of the Holocaust," and even play into the hands of Holocaust deniers by giving weight to their claim that the Holocaust was merely one of many "outbreak[s] of violence in the history of the 20th Century."

This is a doomsday scenario which has nothing to do with the intentions of the program. But it seems inevitable that if a genocide lesson plan is finally adopted in the high schools, it will lead many students to look at the Holocaust in a different context, to see that even if the Jews were unique among genocide victims, they were not alone. The program is also bound to confront the xenophobia felt by many of Israel's youth.

"I agree that the Holocaust was unique. I think it was an extreme example of genocide, and different from other ones," Dr. Oron said. But, he pointed out, that doesn't mean it was unique in every detail, that no comparisons can be made between it and other genocides, that it has no meaning beyond a Jewish or Zionist one.

He asked:"How can we know why and how the Holocaust was unique if we don't know what happened to other people?"

Copyright © 1994, Baltimore Jewish Times.

Copyright © 1994, SoftLine Information Inc., all right reserved.

Title: Not Only Jews: Will the Holocaust be diminished if Israeli schools include lessons on other genocides?
Source: Baltimore Jewish Times; Ethnic News Watch
Date: 08-APR-1994
Regular Price: $3.00
Subscriber's Price: $3.00
Document Size: Short (up to 2 pages)
Document ID: GG19970827020008215
Citation Information: V. 216; N. 6; p. 48
Author(s): Derfner, Larry
Document Type: Article

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Property Value
Author(s): Larry Derfner
Title: Not Only Jews, Will the Holocaust be diminished if Israeli schools include lessons on other genocides?
Sources: Baltimore Jewish Times, 08-APR-1994, V. 216; N. 6; p. 48
Published: 1994-04-08
First posted on CODOH: June 29, 1996, 7 p.m.
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