Israeli High School Principal Faces Disciplinary Action Over B'Tselem Talk to Students

Talk by B’Tselem director came after Education Ministry banned schools from hosting people from groups ‘that treat IDF soldiers with contempt and call Israel an apartheid state’

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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.

The director-general of the Education Ministry summoned the principal and the managing director of a Haifa high school for a disciplinary hearing on Wednesday, following a lecture given to students by the director of a human rights organization despite a ministry order to cancel it. The hearing will be held on Sunday.

Some 300 12th graders at the Hebrew Reali School in Haifa participated in the Zoom lecture Monday by Hagai El-Ad, the director of B’Tselem. A day earlier – and a few days after B’Tselem declared for the first time referred to Israel as practicing “apartheid” – Education Minister Yoav Gallant instructed the ministry director-general to bar schools from hosting representatives of organizations “that treat IDF soldiers with contemptand call Israel an apartheid state.”

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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.

In a letter to the principal, Mendi Rabinowitz, ministry director-general Amit Edri wrote on Wednesday that he had conducted himself in a manner “inconsistent with legal provisions and the norms expected of any instructor, and especially a principal.”

Edri argued that discussing controversial issues with students was permissible, but that “the full spectrum of views regarding each topic” should be presented. Notably, however, the right-wing columnist Nave Dromi spoke at the same virtual event.

The ministry director-general also referenced a statement made by El-Ad during the talk. Answering a student’s question, El-Ad said that “extremism is the horrifying reality that exists in the territories, that our military kills Palestinians in the territories.” Edri said that the remarks “stand in stark contrast to the goals of public education... and have a detrimental effect on students” because of their apparent condemnation of Israel.

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 includedDromi, attorney Daniel Haklai and Oded Feller, head of the legal department of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

The school confirmed they had received the summonses for the disciplinary hearing. Haaretz has learned that the school principals were summoned through their work emails while the school was shuttered amid the coronavirus lockdown.

In addition, the summonses were sent to journalists on WhatsApp five minutes after they were sent to the principals.

Rabinowitz and Yosi Ben-Dov, the managing director of the school, were summoned for a hearing Sunday, while teachers must be given a period of seven to 10 days from the moment they were summoned and the actual hearing.

The Education Ministry has yet to comment on the matter.

Last week, B’Tselem launched a new campaign in which it claimed that Israel maintains an apartheid regime in the entire territory “between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River,” meaning both inside Israel and in the Palestinian territories.

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