Israeli Arab Schools Face Serious Restraints in Pre-election Activities

Jewish schools encounter none of the restrictions put on Arab counterparts, such as no party posters or propaganda.

Yarden Skop
Yarden Skop
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Labor party leader Shelly Yacimovich speaking to students Wednesday at Ramat Gan's Blich High School.
Labor party leader Shelly Yacimovich speaking to students Wednesday at Ramat Gan's Blich High School.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Yarden Skop
Yarden Skop

The Education Ministry gave an Arab high school in the north a hard time when it wanted to conduct a pre-election political panel with party representatives and a fair featuring party booths and activists, even though such events are routinely held in Jewish schools.

The panel did take place on Wednesday at the Hana Mavis Comprehensive School in Rameh, the first such event in an Arab school. But the school, which has Druze, Muslim and Christian students, was subject to restrictions that are not imposed on Jewish schools.

Sources in the school and the local council say that at first, officials in the Education Ministry’s Northern District had objected to the school holding any kind of pre-election event, arguing that it was liable to cause provocations and incite the students. Later on, district director Orna Simhon withdrew her objection to holding a panel discussion, but refused to allow the school to hold a fair, for fear that it would violate the director general’s circular that sets limits on political discourse in schools or the law that forbids political propaganda in schools.

In fact, the Education Ministry inspector for the school spoke before the panel discussion, read out the relevant paragraphs from the circular and warned against political propaganda. The students were also forbidden to wear shirts with the logos of any political party, hang party posters or distribute party materials.

A spokesperson for the Education Ministry’s Northern District told Haaretz that Simhon had approved the principal’s request to hold the panel discussion on condition that it be held in accordance with the instructions in the director general’s circular.

It should be noted that although such activity indeed seems to violate the law and the director general’s circular, Jewish schools often hold “happenings” with booths, posters, activists and party pamphlets. Members of the various parties have visited dozens, if not hundreds of schools in recent weeks, meeting no objections or restrictions from the Education Ministry. Only last week the Yesh Atid party unveiled its educational platform at the Blich High School in Ramat Gan.

All the major parties were invited to send representatives to the panel discussion in Rameh, which was organized with the help of the Abraham Fund. United Torah Judaism and Habayit Hayehudi did not send a delegate, while the Likud representative cancelled at the last minute and the Kulanu representative, Akram Hasson (12th on its slate), ended up sending an aide, Salam Hir, in his stead. The Joint List sent two representatives, Aida Touma-Suliman (No. 5) and Basel Ghattas (No. 11), Shas sent David Azoulay (No. 5) and Meretz sent Mossi Raz (No. 6). The other parties sent unknown, Arabic-speaking candidates who are in unrealistic or borderline spots on their respective lists, like Salah Sa’ad, No. 26 on the Zionist Union slate.

In contrast, Jewish schools in the center of the country routinely attract the parties’ top-tier candidates. Both Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni of Zionist Union have been visiting three schools a week; Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and Habayit Hayehudi’s Naftali Bennett visit schools frequently, as do other party heads and incumbent MKs.

The school’s principal, Majdi Qassem, called it a “big day” for him and his students, adding, “The aim was for our students to understand that they have the right to vote and to set the country’s priorities.”

Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu, co-director of the Abraham Fund, said, “There is great importance in promoting civic involvement among young, first-time voters, because this vote is crucial to establishing a pattern of voting or not voting later on.”

The school also conducted a mock election, in which 219 of 341 11th- and 12th-graders participated. The results were somewhat surprising; as expected, the Joint List came in first with 40.5 percent of the vote, but it was followed by Likud, with 10.5 percent. Afterward came Zionist Union with 8 percent; Yesh Atid, 7.5 percent; Kulanu, 5.5 percent; the Arab list (a separate list headed by Taleb a-Sanaa), 5.5 percent; Yisrael Beiteinu, 5 percent; Shas, 4 percent and Meretz, 2 percent. Eli Yishai’s Yahad got 1 percent, while Habayit Hayehudi got 0.5 percent.

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