As you may know by now, the Israeli Education ministry has “disqualified” the book “Gader Haya” (in English “Borderlife”) by Dorit Rabinyan because it describes a romantic relationship between a Jewish woman and a Palestinian man. I am sure the book’s publicist is ecstatic as every media outlet is talking about the book and reportedly Israeli bookstores are selling (and running out of) copies in record numbers.
The move is being described (for example here, here and here) in the way anyone involved in the decision ought to have been warned about (in advance!) by their PR people: a disastrous, closed minded move which is the antithesis of a democratic society.
While it can be understood educationally why Jewish schools in Israel (and elsewhere) might not want to use a book making intermarriage or assimilation somehow positive or more familiar. It is, after all, a fact that Jewish schools actually try to prevent assimilation. But, not wanting to “promote” assimilation is surely not being served by a decision which has turned out to be the best PR and sales move the author and publisher could have ever hoped for. (I always tell my clients to pray for a book ban. Seriously.)
A book that might have barely been used by educators is now likely a top choice. And the ban makes many (most?) people more sympathetic to the book, the author and the topic. Fiction can always make something difficult seem romantic and worthy. So the Education Ministry is probably not very pleased right now. Yet, there could have been another approach.
Here is what the Education Ministry should have done: produce the best resources (in print, video, anything & everything) to help educators and students discuss the book and the issues it raises (especially assimilation, intermarriage etc.). Don’t ban a book. It doesn’t work anyway. Engage with the book. Get people talking, angry, happy or frustrated. Provide quality, engaging sources about Jewish continuity, assimilation and other relevant topics. If these resources were available, they might have been used in collaboration with the book and could have helped young Israeli Jews and their teachers really grapple with the issues of assimilation, Jewish identity and more. Instead, they’ve helped the book become an even better seller than it already was. It is likely the ban will be lifted at some point and the book will be adopted by more schools than ever before – and the Education Ministry will have no input into the discussions held. Too bad.