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Bill to Ban Anti-occupation Group From Schools Wins Preliminary Knesset Support

Bill's sponsor accuses the veterans' anti-occupation group of helping Hamas in its campaign to delegitimize Israel.

Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid speaks at a party meeting, January 2, 2017.
Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid speaks at a party meeting, January 2, 2017. Emil Salman

In a preliminary reading on Wednesday, the Knesset approved a bill meant to bar the anti-occupation veterans' organization Breaking the Silence from giving talks in schools.

If the legislation ultimately passes, it would grant the education minister the authority to ban certain groups or individuals from speaking at schools if those groups' activities could lead Israel Defense Forces soldiers to be tried abroad.

The bill was a joint initiative of Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, and was submitted by Habayit Hayehudi faction chair MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli. Lapid called on lawmakers to support the bill.

“Time after time, Breaking the Silence has been proven to be lying," he said. "But their supporters, even in this house, don’t care about that. For [them], Israeli is always the guilty party. They know full well that there is no army more moral than the IDF and no army that is more scrupulous about the rules of combat, but that doesn’t matter to [them].”

Lapid added, “In Israel, there is freedom of expression. It is meant to protect all the disgusting things that we don’t want to hear, and so the public space is open to Breaking the Silence. That doesn’t mean that the government cannot keep them out of the schools. This is proportionate and reasonable. It doesn’t spell the end of democracy. I will not allow them to hurt IDF soldiers. Kids who will soon be drafted don’t need to see fabricated material whose purpose is to prove that Israel is always the guilty one.”

Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon attempted to counter Lapid as he was speaking and was removed from the hall. “We’re more patriotic than you are. This is pure populism,” Galon shouted at Lapid and accused him of telling falsehoods.

During the session, Bennett said that Israeli schools should teach “mutual solidarity and about not harming others. They will teach gratitude for the soldiers who protect us and never seek to harm them.” He added, “This is a law for the ordinary, sane and Zionist Israel that defends itself and its army and is not prepared to accept a situation where, as in the days of the destruction of the Second Temple, they want to burn our food storehouse and burn down our house from the inside.”

Moalem-Refaeli said, “Breaking the Silence is greatly benefiting from activity that includes giving reinforcement to the BDS movement, questioning the IDF’s morality and fueling a system of hate by supplying false information in the form of reports and publications abroad. With no shame, Breaking the Silence slanders Israel and aids Hamas in its campaign to delegitimize Israel.”

MK Michal Rozin of Meretz responded, “In Bennett’s reality, anyone who dares to criticize the policy of the occupation and the complex situation in the territories should be outlawed. Our education minister wants to raise a generation here that answers to one voice – his voice.” MK Amir Ohana of Likud countered: “The Israeli school system is not a playing field for the far left, and we must state very clearly: Anti-Israel organizations that serve the greatest Israel haters of our time have no place in our schools.”

Breaking the Silence director Yuli Novak said in response to the Knesset discussion and vote: “The Zionist Union has 24 MKs. But only 17 opposition MKs, four of them from Meretz, stood up against the fascist and violent show of Bennett and Habayit Hayehudi. You should be ashamed! And as for the Yesh Atid MKs, all I can do is send my condolences. It’s sad to see how Yair Lapid has turned them into the doormats of Smotrich and Habayit Hayehudi," he said, referring to Bezalel Smotrich, a hard-right lawmaker in the party.

"The representatives of the settlers and the occupation in the Knesset can keep sweating, because only one thing will shut us up: an end to the occupation," he continued. "Until then, we are here to stay!”