A Tel Aviv high school principal, Ram Cohen, has co-authored an article in response to a piece by Prof. Shlomo Avineri calling on people to vote for the Labor Party. Both articles were published in Haaretz. Cohen and his co-author, Prof. Orit Kedar of the Hebrew University, criticized both Likud and Labor and called on Israelis to support parties on the left. As a result, Cohen has been summoned for a pre-dismissal hearing by the Education Ministry and the Tel Aviv municipality, his employers.
Cohen, principal of Tichon Net High School, is an exemplary educator who encourages his students to become civically engaged. In his previous posting at the city's Aleph High School of Arts, he didn't hesitate to express his opinion in favor of separating religion and state, against the involvement of the Israel Defense Forces in the education system, for migrants' rights and against the occupation. He turned his school into a democratic, vibrant institution.
His summons to a hearing isn't the first attempt to silence him. The attempts by the Education Ministry under Gideon Sa'ar to silence opinions shouldn't surprise anyone anymore. But it's surprising to see the Tel Aviv municipality under Mayor Ron Huldai join in this dangerous move. It seems political involvement by Israeli education officials is prohibited only if it comes from the left. No one is threatening to dismiss principals of yeshiva high schools, which preach nationalism and racism.
The directives of the Education Ministry's director general should be reexamined in this regard. They prohibit educators from "publicly conveying insulting or hurtful criticism ... of the government and its ministries, including government policies." They also prohibit, as they should, "direct exhortation in public in favor of a particular party."
But Cohen didn't exhort his students; he published his opinion in a newspaper. That's not only his right, it's his duty. The move against him is meant to scare him. It reeks of Zhdanovism - the Soviet policy that all artists and intellectuals had to toe the party line.
We apparently can expect no more from Sa'ar; his attitude is nationalist and totalitarian, and we should hope that his term as education minister is coming to an end. But the mayor of the liberal and diversified city of Tel Aviv is not known as an enemy of pluralism. He is obligated to defend Cohen and the importance of educating about political involvement in a democracy.
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