Friday, January 8, 2016
Israeli-Palestinian love story omitted from curriculum tops bestseller lists
A love story between an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Muslim has become an unlikely bestseller, after Israel’s education ministry refused to allow the book on the high school curriculum.
Dorit Rabinyan’s Gader Haya, known in English as Borderlife, was left off courses last week to avoid encouraging relationships between Jews and Arabs, sparking a backlash by Israeli cultural figures and a buying frenzy. The e book has shot to the top of the fiction chart, becoming s a bestseller in bookstores and online.
The country’s main chart does not provide numbers, but Rabinyan’s agent said more than 5,000 copies had been sold in a week, a huge figure in Israel’s small market, with many bookstores selling out. Deals to sell the rights in Hungary, Spain and Brazil had been discussed, while publication in the US, France and other countries, where translation deals had been agreed, would be sped up, the agent said.
Reflecting on the controversy, Rabinyan said that while she was “worried” about the future of Israeli democracy, she had been encouraged by the support she received. “I think this whole march to bookstores is a demonstration,” she said. “It is not only my fans that buy Borderlife, it is the fans of Israeli democracy. By buying my novel they reconfirm their trust and belief in Israel’s liberalism, in Israel’s freedom of choice and speech.”
Borderlife, published in 2014, is Rabinyan’s semi-autobiographical story of an Israeli woman who falls in love with a male Palestinian artist in New York. The two later part ways as she returns to the Israeli city of Tel Aviv and he to Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Relationships between Israeli Jews and Palestinians are rare and frowned on by large parts of both societies. The book was among the winners of the Bernstein prize for young writers, an annual Israeli award for Hebrew literature.
After requests by teachers to add it to the curriculum, a committee initially backed the book, but was later overruled by senior ministry officials. Among the reasons given was that “intimate relations between Jews and non-Jews threatens the separate identity”, according to the protocol of a parliamentary debate on the issue. This provoked fury from leftwing Israelis and cultural leaders, many of whom have long been critical of the rightwing prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. In one video shared on social media in reaction to the controversy, Arabs and Jews kiss on camera to break what they call a taboo in Israeli society.
Rabinyan, 43, describes herself as a “proud Zionist”, the political movement for creation and consolidation of Israel as a Jewish state. She said, however, that pretending such relationships did not exist would be foolish. “Literature is a mirror,. [My critics think] if they eliminate the mirror maybe the reality will vanish as well. They see Palestinians as a mass, and [the Palestinians] see us as a mass as well. To look into each other’s eyes, as happened between my characters, is very rare for an Israeli to experience,” she said
The education ministry appeared to row back from its previous position on Thursday. “The book wasn’t disqualified, but merely not included among the books studied” in the extended high school literature programme, it said. The ministry added that while teachers were still permitted to study the book with their students, it would not be included in the final exam.
The novel is the latest cause célèbre in longstanding clashes between the government and cultural figures. In June, the education minister, Naftali Bennett, leader of the rightwing Jewish Home party, pulled state funding from an Arab play he alleged showed a Palestinian attacker in a sympathetic light. Amos Oz, one of the country’s best known authors, said in November he would not attend events at Israeli embassies overseas because of the government’s “radical” policies.