Elite Art School Expels Student for Torching Peer's Hitler Portrait

Expulsion of student from Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts in Givatayim still requires Education Ministry approval.

A student at the prestigious Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts in Givatayim was expelled last week after he and another student torched a classmate's portrait of Adolf Hitler.

The expulsion still needs Education Ministry approval.

"The punishment is inconceivable and disproportionate," the parents of the expelled student said. The school's principal, Haim Daitchman, rejected their argument.

"Precisely because we are an arts school, and protecting freedom of expression is very important to us, damaging another student's work is a very grave act," Daitchman said. "Red lines have been crossed."

The parents of the other student responsible for the act decided to transfer him to another school.

The incident occured after 11th-grade visual art students presented original works for a class exhibition, as they do every year. This year the topic was "mistakes," and the interpretation was left open.

Adolf Hitler image Oct. 6, 2010 (AP)
AP Photo / Miguel Tovar

One student presented a drawing of Hitler, which he called "the biggest historical mistake ever." The student's mother said her son "very much loves history, and it was important for him to convey the message that the Holocaust was not just another chapter in our history textbook to be learned and forgotten, but a horrible, criminal act."

"This was the context of the work," the mother said. "His grandparents are Holocaust survivors, and these are issues that were discussed at home."

"It was important for the picture to spark a discussion," the mother said. "It was important that adults and other students see the picture and talk about it."

"The work evoked many responses, and that is perfectly fine," said Daitchman. "Part of art's task is to evoke reactions."

The works in the exhibition were displayed in the school for weeks. When classes reconvened after the Sukkot holiday earlier this month, the students discovered the Hitler drawing had been taken down. In its place was a note that read: "We burned your work."

The principal filed a complaint with police and began making the rounds of the school to discuss the incident with the students. A short time later, two 11th-graders who were not in the visual arts course admitted they had burned the work in the schoolyard during the holiday break.

Daitchman said that both students told him they videotaped the incident but then deleted the footage. Other students are believed to have seen the video, but did not report the incident.

Last week, the school's pedagogic council voted to expel one of the students. The other left on his own accord.

This Thursday, the expelled student's parents will meet again with school officials and an Education Ministry aide. The ministry will then decide whether to confirm the expulsion.

The parents launched an online petition in a bid to enlist public support against the school's decision. He burned the work "in a moment of emotion," they said. "The student's grandfather is a Holocaust survivor, and the student was very influenced by this. We agree our son did something inappropriate, and we condemn it. But this does not warrant an expulsion."

"Our son has expressed deep regret for his actions," the parents wrote. "He met with the student [whose work was burned] and received his forgiveness. He also met with the principal and his deputy and expressed his deep remorse."

The principal replied that by video taping his actions, the student showed he was not acting out of rage, but rather premeditation.

"We view [the burning of the work] with extreme gravity," the Education Ministry said in a statement. "Moral educational dilemmas cannot be settled through violence. Nonetheless, the ministry insists ... that every student is entitled to a hearing and that the pedagogic council will summon the parents for another hearing."