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Civics teachers yesterday criticized a government ban against municipal election campaigning in schools, saying the decision denied pupils an opportunity to become better acquainted with the democratic process.

"Education Minister Yuli Tamir has improved civics classes and added additional academic units, but the Education Ministry is keeping pupils from being directly involved in the local elections," said Guy Ben Gal, a civics teacher from Kfar Sava.

Citizens may vote in local elections starting at age 17, and candidates often vie for the youth vote. Two weeks ago, Education Ministry deputy director general Leah Rosenberg sent a memo to high schools instructing them not to let candidates meet with students on the school premises. According to the memo, political representatives have been barred from entering schools in the 60-day period before the elections.

Ben Gal, who chairs Kfar Sava's Green Party branch, added: "You can talk theoretically in class about how much local elections matter, but holding meetings and debates to allow pupils to ask questions and make decisions is not allowed."

Dr. Nimrod Aloni of the Kibbutz College of Education also says inviting candidates into high schools could benefit students. "If carried out properly, holding a debate on local issues between a number of candidates at high schools could offer a classic civics education," Aloni said.

The principal of a large school in central Israel, however, said that candidates have close ties to many of his colleagues and that he was concerned such ties could lead to an imbalanced representation at high schools.