Education Minister Chided School Over B’Tselem Lecture Approved by His Ministry

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Hagai El-Ad speaks to Haifa Reali students over Zoom, January 18, 2021.
Hagai El-Ad speaks to Haifa Reali students over Zoom, January 18, 2021.

A high school conference slammed by Education Minister Yoav Gallant, for its inclusion of B’Tselem director Hagai El-Ad, had the prior approval and support of the ministry’s regional inspector.

Mira Yuval, general inspector of the Education Ministry’s Haifa district, approved the Zoom conference held by Haifa’s Reali School earlier this month that included El-Ad, and even complimented the school’s principals on the event’s content, according to text messages obtained by Haaretz.

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The ministry had claimed that Yuval had opposed the conference, which took place on January 18 and was attended by some 300 pupils.

B’Tselem, a human rights organization, launched a new campaign this month in which it claimed that Israel maintains an apartheid regime in the entire territory “between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River,” meaning both in Israel and the West Bank.

The day before the conference, Gallant issued a letter banning from schools any organizations “That treat IDF soldiers with contempt and call Israel an apartheid state.” That prompted director of the Haifa district, Sa’ar Harel, to order the cancellation of the conference, or at least of El-Ad’s participation in it. The Reali School asked the ministry to explain its legal basis for cancelling the event, but never got a response and decided to hold it as scheduled. This past Thursday its principals were summoned to a hearing at the Education Ministry’s headquarters in Tel Aviv.

In a text message sent to the senior high school principal, Mendy Rabinovich, a day before the letters sent by Gallant and Harel, Yuval wrote, “The conference is very impressive! Good for you! The first panel is definitely balanced. The Institute for Zionist Strategies and the Kahol Lavan Association are a very right-wing body. The second panel presents two different lectures dealing with different aspects of human rights. Excellent!”

Two days after the conference, Education Ministry director general Amit Edri summoned Rabinovich and the school’s managing director, Yossi Ben Dov, to a disciplinary hearing. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel asked the Justice Ministry to cancel the hearing, and in response Deputy Attorney General Ran Nizri wrote, “The response of the Education Ministry was given to us … from which it emerges that the purpose of the hearings is to clarify concrete factual issues relating to the holding of the conference at the Reali School, out of concern that the school’s principals did not act in accordance with director general circulars and contrary to the position of the school inspector and the district director.”

In response to Nizri’s remarks, Yuval stuck to her position and in another text sent the night before the hearing she made it clear that she had approved the conference. “I don’t understand how my name got included here. When they asked me, I said explicitly that I had approved the conference and I will not let them say this,” she wrote.

Attorney Sigal Pail, who represents the Teachers Union, told Haaretz that Thursday’s hearing, “Was a horror show of the political exploitation of authority, that ignored the interest of the educational system and the good of pupils and their parents, while debasing the status of Israel’s teachers and principals.” She added, “The hearing was not based on a single legal foundation, it was all a pre-election political act. It’s forbidden to debase Israeli teachers on the altar of political survival and it’s forbidden to abandon Israeli teachers in an effort to attract votes.”

El-Ad’s lecture was part of a packed schedule of talks for the senior class held under the title, “Military control in Judea and Samaria and protecting human rights – can they go together?” Other scheduled speakers included right-wing columnist Nave Dromi, attorney Daniel Haklai and Oded Feller, head of the legal department of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

Attorney Haran Reichman of the University of Haifa’s Legal and Educational Policy Clinic, who is familiar with the details of the issue, said, “The message from the inspector to the Reali School that the conference was impressive and balanced testifies to the fact that the education minister’s involvement is tainted by irrelevant political considerations. In addition, the obsessive preoccupation with ‘balances’ at any given moment is paralyzing. The role of principals and teachers is to create an educational system that discusses controversial issues over time, in a way that is instructive, fact-based and encourages criticism. They don’t have to ‘justify’ every particular event. Such oversight leads to silencing.”

The Education Ministry did not directly respond to a question about the inspector’s support. It said, “The decision on the hearing for the Reali School was made after the institution’s principal chose to ignore and act contrary to explicit instructions from the education minister and the district director, who said not to bring into schools, organizations that act in opposition to the state’s educational goals, who call the state of Israel an ‘apartheid state’ or treat IDF soldiers with contempt.

“Recognized-but-unofficial schools like the Reali School are funded by the state subject to their consistent observance of the law and the conditions set forth by the state. As part of the [school’s] registration process, its owners signed a document that explicitly commits them to act in accordance with all the rules and regulations set down by the Education Ministry. From what has accumulated it seems that the school allegedly violated those conditions and as such was summoned to a hearing. After their arguments are heard, a decision will be made. “

The administration of the Reali School said that its position and the information it was based on was presented in full at the hearing.

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