A novel about a love affair between a Jewish woman and a Palestinian man has been barred from Israel’s high school curriculum, reportedly over concerns that it could encourage intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews.
The rejection of Dorit Rabinyan’s novel Borderlife, which was published in 2014, created an uproar in Israel, with critics accusing the government of censorship.
The incident was first reported by the Haaretz daily and confirmed in a statement by the education ministry on Thursday.
The rejection also touched on the climate of mistrust between Arabs and Jews, which has deepened during the current wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
The ministry said a panel had debated adding Borderlife to the high school reading curriculum but decided against it. Israeli media said teachers had requested its inclusion on the student reading lists.
Earlier, Haaretz cited a letter by ministry official Dalia Fenig, who wrote that the book, which this year received Israel’s prestigious Bernstein literary prize, was excluded because its content was deemed unfit for high school students.
“Adolescent youth tend to romanticise and don’t have, in many cases, the systematic point of view that includes considerations about preserving the identity of the nation and the significance of assimilation,” Fenig was quoted as writing in the letter.
But Rabinyan said her award-winning book, whose love story plot line takes place in New York, had tried to highlight the similarities and differences between the main protagonists, observing the conflict from afar.
“The two heroes spend a winter overseas and manage to get to know each other in great detail, something that could not happen on the disputed land,” Rabinyan told Israel Radio. “Perhaps their ability to surmount the obstacles of the Middle East conflict is what threatens the education ministry.”
The Israeli high school curriculum includes books on a variety of hot-button issues, including Khirbet Khizeh, a 1949 novel about the expulsion of Arabs from a fictional village by Israeli soldiers, and A Trumpet in the Wadi, a 1987 novel about a love affair between a Jewish man and a Christian Arab woman. Rabinyan has another work on the list.
In an interview with Army Radio, Fenig said having another book on the list that deals with relationships between Jews and non-Jews was one reason Borderlife was excluded.
She also said the timing, coinciding with the current outburst of violence, was not right, fearing the book could inflame tensions in the classroom. She did not address the letter cited in Haaretz and AP could not reach her for comment.
Israel’s Channel 2 TV reported that sales of the book have increased dramatically since the ban and its news anchor jokingly asked education minister Naftali Bennett if the author had thanked him.
Bennett defended the move, saying its content shouldn’t be required reading for school students. He read out sections of the book, which he said portrays soldiers as “sadistic” and details a romance between a Palestinian jailed for security reasons and an Israeli woman. “Should I force Israeli children to read this? Is this a top priority?” Bennett asked.
He said his office “is not the culture ministry and people can read outside whatever they like, but we need to prioritize.”
More than three months of Israeli-Palestinian violence has killed 21 people on the Israeli side and 131 Palestinians, sending tensions between Arabs and Jews soaring.
Last year, religious Israeli lawmakers were outraged by news that the son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was dating a non-Jewish Norwegian woman.
Rabinyan told Army Radio the rejection of “Borderlife” was ironic because “the novel deals precisely with the Israeli fear of assimilation in the Arab milieu within which we exist.”