Israel's Education Ministry Holds Hearing for High School Principals Over B'Tselem Lecture

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Protesters against the Education Ministry's directive in Tel Aviv, January 28, 2021
Protesters against the Education Ministry's directive in Tel Aviv, January 28, 2021Credit: Moti Milrod

The Education Ministry held a hearing Thursday for the principal and the managing director of a Haifa high school after they pressed ahead with a remote lecture by the director of the human rights organization B'Tselem, disobeying a ministry order.

The principal of the Hebrew Reali School's upper division, Mendi Rabinovitz, and the school's managing director, Yossi Ben-Dov, were summoned to the Education Ministry offices in Tel Aviv for the hearing.

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Last week, around 300 students at the Hebrew Reali School in Haifa participated in a Zoom lecture with B'Tselem director Hagai El-Ad.

This came after Education Minister Yoav Gallant instructed the ministry director-general to bar schools from hosting representatives of organizations “that treat IDF soldiers with contempt and call Israel an apartheid state,” and ministry officials conveyed the order to the Reali School. The school asked the ministry for the legal basis on which its decision had been based, and when it got no reply, it went ahead with the lecture.

Dozens of people, spanning civil rights organizations and school alumni, held a rally in support for the high school's decision on Thursday. The hearing was held by Education Ministry Director-General Amit Edri.

On Wednesday, the Justice Ministry said the hearing would go as planned, defying a request from the Association for Civil Rights (ACRI) demanding that the hearing be canceled, but oredered the Education Ministry not to make a decision on the matter until consulting Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri.

"We have not lost sight of the concerns that arise in your application regarding the possible violation of freedom of expression, which is a basic and important fundamental right in a democratic regime," the Justice Ministry said in response to ACRI's petition.

Dr. Saar Harel, Haifa district manager in the Education Ministry, and legal representation from the Attorney General's office also attended the hearing.

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

One protester, Ram Cohen, the principal the Tichonet high school in Tel Aviv, told Haaretz that while "they probably won't do anything to them in the end, the goal is to make all school principals understand that their fate will be your fate: to threaten school principals."

One alumna of the Reali School, Shiri Koren-Gur, said that many other graduates are "shocked" by the hearing, and accused the prime minister and education minister of "pouring a little more gas into the fire of hatred and incitement."

The Education Ministry refused to answer Haaretz’s query relating to the legal opinion on which Gallant’s instruction was based, reiterating its previous statement that the ban was based on the minister’s right “to set policy.”

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