Verete: Piron’s Warning to Avoid 'Cultural Land Mines’ Is 'Orwellian’

'The heart of the matter is the ORT's attempt to fire a teacher on political grounds failed. I hope other teachers remember this fact,' says Adam Verete.

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Teacher Adam Verete, who has been at the center of an affair involving his potential firing over controversial leftist views, had harsh words for Education Minister Shay Piron’s response.

In an interview with Haaretz on Sunday, Verete likened Piron’s approach to that in George Orwell’s novel “1984,” and sharply criticized the minister’s and ORT’s handling of the entire affair.

Piron called Sunday on schools to steer clear of “cultural land mines,” including questioning the legitimacy of the IDF, which he called a “moral army.” He made the statement in response to the recently concluded, two-week controversy surrounding comments in class by a left-wing civics teacher at an ORT high school.

In a published letter to education officials, in which he provided details of the ORT system’s disciplinary hearing for Kiryat Tivon teacher Adam Verete, Piron wrote, “Some of Adam Verete’s remarks were inappropriate, some were legitimate, even if they were not fit for my ears, or the ears of most members of Israeli society.”

Piron stressed that “the Israel Defense Forces is a moral army dealing with difficult challenges, and does everything it can not to forget that people are made in God’s image. Many good Israelis gave their spirit, hearts and lives to the IDF. We are proud of them, and we must not affront them, or ourselves.”

Piron also laid out boundaries for classroom discussions. “There are some areas where we must be doubly careful, as dealing with such subjects includes cultural land mines that we mustn’t set off,” he wrote. Those subjects, he wrote, include insulting religion, offending individuals or communities, denying the Holocaust and “questioning the legitimacy of the IDF as the people’s army, that defends our existence, as well as Israel’s right to exist.”

In an interview with Haaretz, Verete struck back at Piron. “Piron’s declaration is that the IDF’s morality must not be questioned. That’s problematic, because it completely diverts our attention from examining the IDF’s actions. It’s like Orwell’s book. The Education Ministry now declares that the IDF is a moral army,” he told Haaretz on Sunday.

Regarding his employer, the ORT Greenberg school, Verete said, “I’m not sitting around waiting for ORT to apologize,” but added that he feels he was wronged.

“I’m not personally offended by these people, I don’t really know them, and what I do know of them I don’t particularly appreciate. I think I’ve been done a big injustice, and they should recognize it, if not for me, than at least for other teachers.”

Summing up what he has gone through over the past few weeks, Verete said, “Regardless of what ORT or the minister said or didn’t say, the heart of the matter is that ORT’s attempt to fire a teacher on political grounds failed. I hope other teachers remember this fact.”

An ORT representative said in response that it has never been interested in its teachers political views, and that it acted according to the guidelines and principles set by the Education Ministry, up through the end of proceedings last Thursday.

About Piron’s letter, Verete continued, “It’s a shame that Piron did not comment on ORT’s conduct. His only comment was that he knew there was no intent to fire me, so it’s a shame he didn’t share that. This statement also contradicts what ORT director Zvi Peleg said to the media. What’s missing is the way ORT persecuted me over the last few weeks. If [Piron] knew I wouldn’t be fired, then it should have been said. I’ve gotten this image as an Israel-hating anti-Zionist, which has been encouraged by ORT, and the Education Ministry did nothing to prevent that.“

Verete also says that since the issue went public about two weeks ago, he and his family have received threatening phone calls, including curses and death threats. Two days ago, Verete was informed by police that the complaint he filed because the accusatory letter written by his student Sapir Sabah was published on former MK Michael Ben Ari’s Facebook page was closed. Police said only that “the circumstances surrounding the situation do not justify further investigation.”

Verete believes the educational system – ORT and the Education Ministry – failed in not making clear the boundaries for disagreements between students and teachers. He believes this should have been done well before the incident deteriorated into his being summoned for hearings.

“Disciplinary action by the school was not taken,” says Verete. “This is a problematic message for students. How students interact with teachers, and what they are allowed to say, was not addressed. Just last Thursday, someone shouted at me in the hallway – ‘Adam, you bastard, die!’ At the hearing, the principal was asked if the matter was handled and he answered, ‘Yes, I just yelled at everyone.’”

Verete, 33, began teaching at ORT Greenberg about four years ago. He was unprepared for the public controversy sparked by the student’s letter. “If you’d have told me a month and a half ago what would happen, I would have run away. I was surprised at the strength I had to carry on and teach. My wife took it much worse.”

Adam Verete at his home.Credit: Gil Eliyahu

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