Friday, August 27, 2010

Director of Education supports The Shepherd's Granddaughter

Chris Spence, the director of education for the Toronto School Board, has issued his decision in regard to the Shepherd’s Granddaughter. He’s decided to accept all nine recommendation of the committee looking into my compalint about the book. So he’s rejected my suggestion that The Shepherd’s Granddaughter be used as an example of the kind of book that should never get on a recommended reading list for kids in grade school.

Well, it would have been a surprise if he’d rejected the recommendations of the Board’s own committee and gone with my recommendation instead. Besides, the most important issue is that our schools have been promoting books recommended by the Ontario Library Association without anyone on the school board ever reading them and without the books ever being vetted by any teacher or school librarian.

The Board’s now realized that they can’t take it for granted that the Library Association will recommend wholesome books. In future, books recommended by the OLA will be vetted and school librarians will actually read them before giving them to any students.

Concerning The Shepherd's Granddaughter, the issue is that the TDSB was recommending a book of anti-Israeli propaganda to all kids in grades 7 and 8, a book that defames Israelis and Jews as child murderers.

After I complained, the Board decided that this book should be classed as a "controversial book." This meant that teachers were supposed to guide students before, during and after they read the book, and school libraries were supposed to make material available so that it would be possible for students to get other views on the conflict. However, it doesn’t appear that these policies were followed.

Again, no surprise. School librarians don’t have the time to guide students as they read a book, and it’s impossible to provide students with alternate, less biased material on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because for this age group, such resources don’t exist.

I then made a formal complaint about the book, arguing that The Shepherd's Granddaughter is a perfect example of the kind of book schools should not recommend to our children. That when the schools recommend a book about a contentious political issue, it should be an intelligent book that makes an attempt at even-handedness and that shows the humanity of people on both sides of the conflict.

The Board disagreed. The committee that looked at this book argued it's a good thing the book is biased, as this gives kids an opportunity to practice their critical skills. The director of education for the Board has now said he agrees with them.

And for the time being, that’s where the matter rests…

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Happy in Israel by Fabian

You know, the other day I was counting the things I have here, and yes I am very happy. Actually these are the best and happiest years of my life and I know it. Funny how - in spite of being a recent immigrant - I would answer yes, I am happy, like the rest of the Israelis.

The feeling of safety here compared to Argentina is one of the things you cannot value enough. No need to watch your back when entering your home at night, or when extracting money from an APM. No need to put your backpack on the front when you get on the bus.

Parks with games for children everywhere. And with grass even. The cranes everywhere, building more places to live and you know, you can feel, touch and see that your city is progressing and getting nicer every day (as opposed to Buenos Aires where you cannot see or touch or feel any of these things).

I haven’t been much to the beach this summer cause of the baby, but the beach, man! The beach 10 km away instead of 500! The mountains at the same distance, not 1000 km away! The children learning Hebrew, and every day a new aspect of Judaism I wasn’t aware of is mentioned by someone, a friend, a coworker, the TV, etc.

The forest I pass by on my way to work. And when you know that Jews planted and each and every tree you see, helped by the Jewish National Fund, man the forest is worth a hundred times more in your eyes.

And finally, the knowledge that you being here is a miracle after 2000 years of Exile. Can’t put a price on that - but of course you can rank it.

I heard that the Palestinian government in the West Bank is planting lots of trees nowadays. Good for them. I wish that will help them see more green instead of red.

This posting is re-blogged from Harry's Place. Fabian from Israel blogs here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The happiest people in the world

I originally published this piece in the National Post, Tuesday, Aug 17, 2010.

Canada and Israel have much in common. We're both big believers in democracy and in fairness, we're both highly diverse multicultural societies and both of us have dynamic economies.

But I was tickled to learn this summer that Canada and Israel have yet one more thing in common: We're tied for eighth place among the happiest people on Earth.

Some people might be surprised to find Israelis at the top of the happiness charts. After all, Gallup conducted this poll from 2005 to 2009, and during that time, Israel fought two wars.

On top of that, Israel is often protrayed as a monstrous, apartheid state. Surely Israeli Arabs must live in utter misery -- and since they make up 20% of the population, their despair ought to pop the happiness bubble, right? Apparently not. It seems Israeli Arabs are pretty happy, too.

Arab-Israeli soccer star Beram Kayal has an easy explanation for misconceptions about Israel. "People watch too much television," he recently told Scotland's Sunday Herald.

"What the television shows about Israel is totally different [from] what happens. The life between the Jews and the Arabs is very good. I'm an Arab and my agent is Jewish but we're like family ... Maccabi Haifa has seven or eight Arab players and that's normal. The only difference is their religion, but there's no conflict."

But what about all those wars in Israel? Shouldn't they make Israelis miserable? Not really.

The 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon lasted just 34 days. The operation in Gaza against Hamas, in 2008-2009, lasted just 22 days. In total, that's only eight weeks of war.

For the other 252 weeks in the last five years, Israelis spent their time pretty much like Canadians: working, raising their families and enjoying themselves. That's normal life in Israel, but what's normal isn't news, so we don't hear about it.

Besides, being at war doesn't necessarily make people unhappy. During the first hours of the Lebanese War, Israel destroyed all of Hezbollah's long-range missiles, making Israel's major cities safe for the duration.

Hezbollah did fire thousands of missiles into northern Israel, trying to kill as many Jews as possible. But Hezbollah's missiles caused few injuries, as a million Israelis simply

evacuated to the south, and those who stayed waited out the bombardment in bomb shelters.

Meanwhile, the country was absolutely behind the war. Overseas, people may have been confused over what the war was about, but Israelis all knew they'd been attacked without provocation, with missiles striking Israeli towns and an ambush on an Israeli patrol that left three soldiers dead and two more kidnapped.

Standing together in the face of aggression doesn't make people miserable; quite the contrary. It puts fire in the belly and the warmth of fellow feeling in the heart.

Similarly, while people overseas may have been confused by the media coverage, Israelis know that their operation against Hamas in Gaza was one of the most justified wars in history -- that it was an answer to naked terrorism after all other solutions had been tried and failed.

For years, Hamas had tormented the townsfolk of Sderot with daily rocket and mortar attacks that struck schools, homes and health clinics. The purpose of the war was to allow Sderot and other Israeli towns coming under terrorist attack to enjoy the same peace and happiness as the rest of Israel. And whole country supported the cause.

Israel isn't paradise of course -- except in comparison to most places in the world. For example, the Palestinian-controlled territories rank 96th on the happiness list. Which brings me to a modest proposal: Among other intractable issues, the status of Jerusalem is one of the major stumbling blocks to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Why not hold a referendum? Ask Jerusalem's Arabs if they want the continuing happiness of being part of a compassionate and caring liberal democracy or if they prefer the abject misery of living under the infinitely corrupt Palestinian Authority.

No one can seriously doubt the result of such a referendum. During the Camp David talks, it was proposed that, as part of a peace agreement, some Israeli Arab towns should be placed on the Palestinian side of the border.

So the Israeli Arab weekly Kul Al-Arab polled the Arabs of Um al Fahm to ask what they thought of their city joining a Palestinian State. Only 11% were in favour; 83% said they preferred to remain Israeli.

A referendum among Arab Jerusalemites would have a similarly lopsided result. And allowing Jerusalem's Arabs to tie themselves permanently to Israel of their own free choice would be an excellent way to begin a new stage in the relationship.