Educators protest Myanmar’s veto over Israeli textbooks

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely signs an education agreement with Myanmar ambassador Maung Maung Lynn on May 28, 2018.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely signs an education agreement with Myanmar ambassador Maung Maung Lynn on May 28, 2018.

A group of Israeli educators and scholars have petitioned Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel an agreement with Myanmar that gives each country a veto over how it is depicted in the other’s textbooks.

In May, Myanmar ambassador to Israel Maung Maung Lynn signed a deal with Israel’s foreign ministry allowing each country to “endeavor to mutually verify school textbooks, particularly concerning the passages referring to the history of the other state and, where needed, introduce corrections to these textbooks”.

“It’s inconceivable that while the Burmese junta is busy committing genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, it has the right to interfere in curricula in Israel,” the educators wrote in their letter to Netanyahu, who also serves as Israel’s foreign minister.

It goes on: “Every program in Israeli schools that relates to Burma must deal with the reality in which this country’s history over the last decades is characterized by genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the denial of basic human rights, and by a military regime which murders, rapes, tortures and makes citizens disappear, particularly directing its crimes at ethnic minorities.”

The signatories also criticized the power the agreement gives to the Myanmar government to bypass Israel’s education ministry, which is generally tasked with approving school curricula.

“This is a scandalous accord that shames and sullies the entire Israeli education system…as citizens and as educators and members of the academic world we believe there is a black flag flying over this accord,” the letter reads.

Well before the Myanmar deal, Israel had come under criticism for editing Palestinian flags, Koranic verses, and references to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat out of textbooks produced by the Palestinian Authority for Palestinian students.

Myanmar curriculum, too, has been criticized for lacking substantive content on the country’s ethnic diversity, leading to prejudices across ethnic lines and complacency toward wars against ethnic minority communities, particularly the Rohingya, whose bloody mass displacement earned Myanmar an accusation of genocide from UN investigators.

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