Al-Madaniyyat: A New Civil Agenda for Arabs in Israel?

Itamar Radai discusses the alternative civics curriculum presented recently by the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel.

12th grade Arab students in northern Israel. Illustrative.

12th grade Arab students in northern Israel. Illustrative. From Wikimedia Commons

Al-Madaniyyat:[1] A New Civil Agenda for Arabs in Israel?
In preparation for the opening of the current school year (2017-2018), the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel[2] and the Forum of Arab Civics Teachers,[3] published an anthology in Arabic entitled "The Civics Booklet for Summer 2018."[4] The three hundred-page reader is designed for Arab high school students who are about to sit for the official civics matriculation exams to be held in the upcoming summer.  The anthology was published as part of an initiative that has been conducted in recent years under the supervision of the High Follow-Up Committee.

The initiative’s debut was announced in a resolution adopted by the Follow-Up Committee in January 2016, which was publicized at a press conference and in a press-release issued in Arabic and Hebrew on October 10, 2016. The press release announced “the completion of the first stage of preparation of complementary and alternative materials for civics studies for Arab students. The materials will be posted on the Follow-Up Committee’s website for the use of teachers, students, and parents in order to complete the deficiencies in the official curriculum.”  Later, the press release addressed the Israeli Ministry of Education in “an open proposal… and a demand to reform the civics curriculum so that it will reflect the aspiration [for the creation of] a citizenry that is democratic, dynamic and open to pluralism and equality. It is clear that this is a necessary step for all curricula (Arabic Language, Geography, History, Sociology, etc.).”[5]

The Arabic-language education system for Arab students in Israeli schools has long been a subject of considerable controversy as well as a subject of considerable research interest. The curriculum has been frequently described by Arab academics as old-fashioned, outdated, and irrelevant to the current reality of life in Israel for Arab citizens, especially in the aforementioned subjects. Among other things, there has been criticism of the paucity of resources invested in its creation, and of the fact that the curriculum was designed almost entirely without the participation of Arab citizens since the period of military government (1948-1966).  Another claim is that the curriculum is suited to the needs of Jewish society but not the national, cultural, and religious needs of Arab students.[6]

Since the 1980s, partial reforms have been made to the system, including in the field of civics studies, which were aimed to make the curricula more relevant for Arab students. Within this framework, the Ministry of Education published an Arabic-language civics book that dealt with topics that had been considered almost taboo until that time, such as identity, the expropriation of land, civil rights, and discussion of the Palestinian national identity of Arab citizens in Israel.[7] The Kremnitzer Committee (1996), appointed by Minister of Education Amnon Rubinstein, called for meeting “the other” in society and for the strengthening of the common denominator, along with open discussion of the bedrocks of the controversy. The results reinforced the trend expressed in textbooks intended for Arab students, including Civics texts. [8]

In recent years, there has been a growing call from Arab academics to have influence over the education of the Arab minority in the framework of the demand for equal rights. Jurist Dr. Yousef Jabareen (a Knesset member since 2015 representing Hadash within the Joint List) defined the situation thus: “The aspiration for transformation in Arab education is at the top of the Arab population’s agenda. At the core of this transformation lays the demand to substantially advance the   Arab educational system so that it will be equal to that afforded to Jewish students. Equality, both on the individual and group levels, and on all planes: in infrastructure, achievements, qualities, organizational structure and in the curriculum[9]... we will focus on the extent to which the legal discourse in Israel ensures the right of Arab citizens to influence their education.”[10]  Through this discourse, the demand arose also to change the civics curriculum and to influence the presentation of the most sensitive issues in relations between the Arab minority and the state. And indeed, in 2005, an alternative book on concepts of identity and belonging, included in the civics curriculum, was published by leading Arab academics. [11]

Amidst these developments, opposition arose from Arab political and academic circles to the new civics book, Being Israeli Citizens. Published in 2016 by the Ministry of Education, the book was intended to serve both Jewish and Arab students and was followed by a publication of a glossary of concepts. An appeal (which was rejected) was submitted to the High Court of Justice on the matter, and Arab representatives of the Civics Committee in the Ministry of Education resigned following their claim that the comments they gave on the glossary of concepts and on the book were disregarded.[12] Israel’s Arab press reported extensively on the matter, and senior political leaders, including former Knesset member (MK) and incumbent chair of the High Follow-Up Committee, Mohammad Barakeh and MK Dr. Yousef Jabareen, harshly criticized the civics text and called for its boycott. They also insisted a new book be issued on behalf of the Follow-Up Committee.[13]

The initiative of the High Follow-Up Committee was designed to create an alternative curriculum for the study of civics for Arab schools in Israel. The involvement of senior leadership attests to the fact that this is not purely an educational issue, but at once an issue of both national and civil importance,  as far as that leadership is concerned. At the press conference held on October 10, 2016, Barakeh emphasized their intention to take practical steps and not to settle for mere protest, as in the past. Professor As'ad Ghanem, of the School of Political Science at the University of Haifa, who was appointed the initiative’s coordinator, stated at the same press conference, “We – the Palestinians in Israel – are a strong group with the ability to force change through an initiative of our own undertaking.” The two statements were published in full on the Follow-Up Committee’s website; the subject of “al-Madaniyyat” was posted in a central place on the website and various materials about the initiative were added to it. In addition, a series of meetings were organized by the initiative’s activists with Arab Civics teachers, throughout which the materials were distributed. According to the initiative’s organizers, the materials include four sections. The first section included commentary on the glossary of civics and “the presentation of a balanced and democratic viewpoint”; comments were appended to forty-six of the 126 terms in the original glossary, and thirteen new terms were added. The second segment includes supplemental lesson outlines prepared by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. The third section contains a booklet intended for teachers entitled al-Madaniyyat – Madamin Badila, meaning Civics: Alternative Content, and the fourth section is a summary of the entire curriculum, which was published as a reader at the beginning of the current school year.[14]

The al-Madaniyyat booklet spans ninety-two pages and was published by Dirasat – Arab Center for Law and Policy, which was founded by MK Dr. Jabareen and directed by him until his election to the Knesset. The booklet has six chapters: historical background on the establishment of the state of Israel, the Jewish identity of the state, the Nakba[15] and the Palestinian narrative, the minority in the shadow of the majority, Israeli democracy and lastly, the question of identity.[16] Among the broad components of identity for Palestinian citizens of Israel, the booklet demarcates the following topics: belonging to the Palestinian nationality; steadfastness (sumud); attachment to the land; the discourse of indigenousness (aslaniyya) that emphasizes the historical connection of Arab citizens to the land; belonging to an Arab environment in the region; and the rejection of divisive ethnic and sectarian discourse, while emphasizing national identity. Alternatively, the centrality of the Israeli civil component to the identity of Arab minority in Israel is also highlighted.[17]

The booklet also includes messages that emphasize Israeli identity that are contrary to the common Palestinian narrative. For example, in the chapter that relates to the establishment of the State of Israel, which opens the book, depicts the emergence of the Zionist Movement in Europe as a national movement against the backdrop of Jewish enlightenment and the rise of national movements.[18] This is contrary to the collective Palestinian narrative and memory of the conflict, which usually views Zionism as a colonialist movement which settled in Palestine at the behest of the colonial powers.[19] This is not the only example of positions that are incompatible with the Palestinian national narrative in the al-Madaniyat initiative. For example, in the reader Civics Booklet for Summer 2018, Israel’s status as a modern nation-state and its Jewish and democratic identity are emphasized.[20] According to the reader, the Arabs in Israel belong to the Arab nation (al-qawmiyya al-'arabiyya), however they possess Israeli citizenship (jinsiyya isra'iliyya). The reader’s authors compare their situation to being ethnically German while living in Austria or Switzerland.[21]

Last summer, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (as a part of the activities of the Konrad Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation at the Moshe Dayan Center) conducted a comprehensive survey amongst Arab citizens of Israel which centered on the matter of citizenship. The survey, which included focus groups and a telephone survey with the Arab population, revealed the strengthening of Israeli civil identity amongst Arabs without compromising the Palestinian-Arab national and cultural identity. One of the striking observations that emerged from the focus groups was the lack of contradiction – in the eyes of the participants – between their Palestinian national identity and Israeli civil identity.[22]

The launch of the al-Madaniyyat initiative of the High Follow-Up Committee shows on the one hand the increase in self-confidence and the willingness to challenge the narrative accepted by the Israeli establishment, and on the other hand it demonstrates a strong desire to shape and influence the civil identity to the point of attempting to create a new civil agenda without relinquishing national or cultural identity. This constitutes another proof of the transformation of Israeli civil identity into a central component in the self-perception of the Arab citizens in Israel.[23]


Dr. Itamar Radai is the Academic Director of the Konrad Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv University.

[1] Al-Madaniyyat: Civics, in Arabic.

[2] The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel (lajnat al-mutaba'a al-'ulya lil-jamahir al-'arabiyya fi isra'il) was established in 1982 by the chairman of the national committee of Arab local councils, which was founded in 1974 as an umbrella for representing Arab citizens. The establishment of the High Follow-Up Committee is considered as the culmination of Arab political organization in Israel. The committee includes members of local councils and representatives of political parties that are active in Arab society, both parliamentary and ex-parliamentary (the committee has no representatives from Zionist parties). The committee hosts sub-committees on a variety of issues including health, education, sports, social services and agriculture. The Israeli government has not officially recognized the committee, however, over the years prime ministers have met with its members several times. In 2015 former Knesset member, Mohammad Barakeh of Hadash party, was elected chair of the committee and heads it since then. See: Itamar Radai, “Between Palestine and Israel: The Elections for Chair of the High Follow-Up Committee, Their Significance and Ramifications,” Bayan 6, November 2015. The website of the High Follow-Up committee:

[3] The Forum of Arab Civics Teachers (muntada mu'allimay al-madaniyyat al-'arab) was established at a conference held in Kafr Qara'  in August  2016. See “The Establishment of the Forum of Arab Civics Teachers,” al-Sonara, 29.08.2016.

[4] Kurasat Madaniyyat Sayf 2018 (N.P, N.D: The High Follow-Up Committee and the Forum of Arab Civics Teachers).

[6] See for example: Khaled Abu 'Asba, Arab Education in Israel: Dilemmas of National Education (Jerusalem: The Florsheimer Institute for Policy Studies, 2007), pp. 9-12, Hebrew.

[7]  Majid al-Haj, Education Among the Arabs: Control and Social Change (Jerusalem: Magnes, 2006), pp. 122-124, Hebrew.

[8] See the summary of the Kremnitzer Committee’s report here.

[9] The emphasis is mine.

[10] Yousef Jabareen, “On the Right to Influence Education Related to the Arab-Palestinian Minority in Israel,” in Ayman Aghbariyeh (editor), Teacher Training in Palestinian Society in Israel (Tel Aviv: Resling, 2013), p. 49, Hebrew. 

[11] Mohammad Amara and Mustafa Kabha, hawiyah wa-intimaa': mashru' al-mustalahat al-asasiyya lil-tulab al-arab (Haifa: Ibn Khaldoun, 2005).

[12] Yarden Tzur, “Two Arab Representatives of the Civics Committee Resign Over Glossary of Concepts; High Court Rejects Petitioners’ Claims,” Haaretz, 20.7.2017.

[13] “Jabareen Calls to Boycott the New Civics Book,” Al-Sonara, 23.12.2015; “Barakeh: the Follow-Up Committee to Publish Alternative Civics Book if Ministry of Education Insists on Publishing its Book,”Al-Sonara, 22.12.2015

[15]  In Arabic: Catastrophe. The common term in Arabic to the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, or the Israeli war of Independence and its repercussions for the Palestinians.

[16] Al-Madaniyyat: Madamin Badila (N.P: Dirasat, 2016).

[17] Ibid, pp. 88-91.

[18] Ibid, pp. 13-18.

[19] Ronni Shaked, Behind the Kafiyyah: The Conflict from the Palestinian Point of View (Tel Aviv: Yediot Ahronot, 2018), pp. 90-91.

[20] Kurasat Madaniyyat Sayf 2018, pp. 3-4.

[21] Ibid, pp. 155-156.

[22] Itamar Radai and Arik Rudnitsky, “Citizenship, Identity, and Political Participation: Measuring the Attitudes of Arabs in Israel,” Bayan, Volume 12, December 2017.

[23] See also Shlomi Daskal’s essay in this issue.