National ethos, multicultural education, and the new history textbooks in Israel

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The role of the school curriculum in multicultural societies is a central issue in the sociology of education. One of the main debates has to do with the relationship between education for multiculturalism and the use of curriculum for shaping the collective memory and strengthening the national ethos. This article deals with the state of multicultural education in Israel in light of the oscillations between conflict and peace in Israeli-Palestinian relations. It is based on a content analysis of the new history textbooks in Jewish schools. These textbooks were produced after the signing of the Oslo peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and were introduced to junior and senior high schools in 1999. The analysis shows that the new textbooks endeavor to innovate regarding the Israel-Arab conflict in the sense of presenting a more open and complex perspective than the previous curriculum did. But the new textbooks, like the old ones, present a typical Zionist narrative that aims to safeguard national-Zionist values and crystallize the collective memory of Jewish students on an ethno-national basis. This narrative is presented exclusively, leaving no room for dealing with the legitimacy of the Palestinian narrative. In this sense, even the new curriculum fails to make a transition toward a multicultural education that might help promote a civil culture. The conclusion is that the introduction of a multicultural ideology seems to be an impossible task when a specific national ethos stands at the center of the school curriculum. This is especially true in states that are experiencing an "intractable conflict" in which the past is used to justify the present.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-71
Number of pages25
JournalCurriculum Inquiry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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