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An Israeli mother passes by a bomb shelter as she accompanies her girl to school in the Israeli southern city of Sderot. (Anja Niedringhaus/AP)

Middle East

Dalia Rabin: Democracy and Education Are Inseparable

The key to a strong, democratic nation lies in its schools, says the daughter of Israel's former prime minister.

As we read of the turmoil across the Middle East, we in Israel see the picture from a different perspective. We are bordered in the North and South by instability, war, horror. The world sees a struggle within the Arab community for freedom, for democracy, and yet for years they turned a blind eye. Israel, my homeland, is the only democratic society in the Middle East. A society truly free that survives amidst a region filled with totalitarianism, suppression of basic rights and demonic acts committed against the citizenry. A society that has thrived not because of a strong defense, but because of an open and free education—it is my belief, that this is the key to truly affecting change in this world. Educate.

The roots of Israel’s focus on education were actually born from necessity, but were firmly grounded throughout the state’s growth. In the years since World War II, Israel saw an unprecedented amount of new immigrants entering its society, including people from all walks of life, from across the world and Europe. Many of these people never knew freedom and democracy in their lives and they came to Israel to find their new hope. They spoke many languages, yet they lived as one. Over time, education was what turned a diverse society into a vibrant nation, and it can do the same for other countries if done openly, transparently and uncensored.

My late father, former Prime Minister Rabin, believed the same and my thoughts are based on what I’ve learned from him and his actions. In his core, my father believed that in order to strengthen and nurture our young nation, we needed to build a strong, free education system. He understood that a democratic election alone does not lead to strong and lasting democratic values. Education and time are needed in order for these values to be ingrained in the population as a way of life. As a result of strong commitments to the sciences and mathematics, Israel is now one the leading medical and technical societies in the world, contributing to improving the quality of lives all across the globe. It is home to some of the world’s leading archaeological and historical institutions, the most advanced agricultural advancements and hosts a flourishing, healthy domestic economy.

In his final term as Prime Minister—the one preceding his assassination—my father made education a top domestic policy, strategically putting unprecedented resources into infrastructure, research, and building charter schools with fresh approaches and philosophies. He believed, as do I, that every child should have access to the tools necessary to flourish in the modern world. He knew that this would directly impact the nation, and he was right. Today, the land that was once described as flowing with milk and honey is producing cutting edge nano-technology, medicines and new therapies to treat the world’s diseases, and it is home to some of the most successful new companies of our age.

A society that has thrived not because of a strong defense, but because of an open and free education—it is my belief, that this is the key to truly affecting change in this world.

Unfortunately, my father did not live to see the outcome of his efforts, and ironically his murder gave us a stark reminder that democracy is fragile and must be nurtured to survive. Eighteen years after his death, Israel remains a stable force in the region and the world. Sure, we have our problems, but every democracy does as not everyone agrees on every issue all the time. And yet, our imperfections are, in my opinion, a shining example of why democracy works: the ability for individuals who do not agree to acquiesce to the majority opinion even if that opinion is different. They have the rights and freedoms to shout from near and far, to assemble in support of their ideals, or protest against ones they disagree with. They are tolerant of those who think differently because they were educated freely and openly in a system that doesn’t teach one perspective, but rather fosters the student to learn as much about the world to form their own perspective and encourages debate.

In my work as Chair of the Yitzhak Rabin Center, the institution that serves to carry on my father’s legacy, we honor the commitment and respect he gave to education by administering programs designed to build bridges amongst communities, educate all people about the importance of the values of a democratic society, and advocate for educational reform in areas which lack infrastructure or even the desire to build infrastructure. The Center itself houses one of the most comprehensive museums on the building of this democratic state I call my home, told not through one perspective, but all. Visitors are able to broaden their knowledge of key issues, while learning about ones they never knew existed. They can see the struggle, both in battle and in soul that many Israelis endured during the country’s young life and they can see happiness and sorrow.

I believe that the story Israel tells is relevant to the world, especially with current events. We took a parched land and turned it into one of the most open and free societies in this hemisphere. What was accomplished here can be replicated everywhere, with education and time as the key. People need to know they should not have to accept others thinking for them. People should learn all sides of a story and not one designed to suit the needs of a state that affords them little or no freedom. Like my father, I am passionate about my country and proud of our accomplishments. And like my father, I would like nothing more than to see a world in which people of all beliefs, cultures and societies have the access to an education that works to serve all of humanity.

 

Dalia Rabin serves as the Chair of the Yitzhak Rabin Center, the national institute dedicated to ensuring the legacy of the late Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Yitzhak Rabin continues to impact Israeli society through its Museum, educational programs and National Archives. Ms. Rabin is a former deputy minister of defense and member of Knesset, who left politics in 2002 to head the center.

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