When the “rule of law” has become a dirty word that is synonymous with “the left,” democracy education must begin precisely with this point and shatter this equation
The results of the elections, as apparent the morning after, lead to one very clear conclusion: the rule of law was the big loser in the 2019 elections. We should not be surprised by this. In a country that does not teach its schoolchildren the principles of democratic citizenship, not even a team of superstars with the most glorious military records can produce any other outcome. The race careened towards a predetermined conclusion. The fundamental principles of democracy have become hollowed out even more than before.
We are a country that never paused to realize that without an investment in the development of a national curriculum in the principles of democracy, beginning in preschool, we would raise generations of women and men who simply do not understand the substance of the regime in which they live and the supreme importance of the rule of law in order to survive. The results were waiting for us around the corner. We are the generation that has been struck full in the face by the results of this complacency. Do Israeli high school students know what is meant by sound management? What public service is? How about ethics? Democracy?!
There are many historical and social reasons why Israel has ignored, or chosen to ignore, its obligation to educate its citizens about the meaning of life in a democratic society. It seems, however, that by now what has been no longer matters. The only way to ensure that Israel does not soon lose its title as “the only democracy in the Middle East” is to return to basics. We need to allocate resources, set objectives, define benchmarks, and institute a formal program to incorporate democracy education into the school system, from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
The odds that the government that will be formed in the coming weeks will promote such a curriculum are close to zero. The void has to be filled by educational organizations and civil society, by the youth movements, and by academia. These are the arenas where it is possible to begin to plant the seeds that will lead to change and produce those who can implement it. The youth movements, which once were a leading and important element in the building of our country and the formation of our leaders’ worldview, seem to have lost their way in a world dominated by the social media. So too academia, which has been silenced and represses any space for the existence of knowledgeable and open democratic life that encourages debate and disagreement.
The overarching goal of these initiatives must begin with the understanding that democracy is relevant for every citizen of Israel, and that safeguarding democratic institutions and values, and especially the rule of law, is not an exclusively leftwing interest. In fact, it is important to each and every one of us as citizens, who at some point in our lives will find ourselves part of a minority that needs to be protected. In a situation where the “rule of law” has become a dirty word that is synonymous with “the left,” democracy education must begin precisely with this point and shatter this equation. It must come down from the ivory tower and operate in every sector and among all strata of the population.
The article was published in the Jerusalem Report.