Israel’s education ministry on Thursday ruled against the inclusion of a novel about the love affair between a Jewish woman and a Palestinian man in the country’s high school curriculum, reportedly over fears that it might encourage intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews. The book — a novel named “Borderlife” by the Israeli writer Dorit Rabinyan — was published in 2014, and received Israel’s prestigious Bernstein literary prize in 2015.
“Adolescent youth tend to romanticize 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,” Dalia Fenig, an education ministry official who heads the committee responsible for the decision, reportedly said. “Even in the state school system, many parents would strongly object to having their son/daughter study the novel and would view it as a violation of the bond of trust between parents and the school system.”
Fenig also added that at a time of heightened tensions between Israelis and Palestinians — with nearly 150 people, mostly Palestinians, killed over the past three months in recurring violence in the West Bank — the book “could do more harm than good.”
“Intimate relations, and certainly the available option of institutionalizing them by marriage and starting a family — even if that does not happen in the story — between Jews and non-Jews, are seen by large portions of society as a threat on the separate identities,” Fenig reportedly said.
The book tells the story of an Israeli woman from Tel Aviv who falls in love with a Palestinian born in the West Bank city of Hebron after a chance encounter in New York. According to Rabinyan, the story attempts to mirror the complexity of life in Israel.
“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.”
While Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who leads the right-wing Jewish Home party, said he supported the decision, other Israeli politicians, including Isaac Herzog of the center-left Zionist Union, slammed the move.
“Tell me, are the People of the Book afraid of books? Are the People of the Book afraid of stories?” Herzog wrote on Facebook Thursday. “This is a dark worldview that does not believe in the judgment of the public, or a younger generation that is much more involved than previous generations.”