Israel's Education Ministry Won’t Sanction High School Staff for B'Tselem Lecture

Former education minister ordered a hearing for Hebrew Reali School administration after some 300 students attended a Zoom talk, but ministry ruled there was ‘insufficient evidence’ of harm to the students

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Yossi Ben-Dov, Mendi Rabinovitz and their attorney outside the Education Ministry hearing in January.
Yossi Ben-Dov, Mendi Rabinovitz and their attorney outside the Education Ministry hearing in January. Credit: Moti Milrod
Or Kashti

The Education Ministry decided that there is no justification for punitive measures against the administration of a Haifa high school for inviting the executive director of the left-wing human rights group B’Tselem to speak to students about six months ago.

Former Education Ministry Director General Amit Edri ruled that there is “insufficient evidence” that Hagai El-Ad’s lecture had “a damaging effect” on the students of the Reali School, at the end of a hearing on the matter that had been ordered by former Education Minister Yoav Gallant.

In a letter to the Hebrew Reali School sent a days before he left office, Edri added that “the overall picture that arose from the hearing is that in general, praiseworthy educational work is being done at the school.” The letter was received by the school on Monday.

The hearing took place in January, and two of the school’s administrators – principal Mendi Rabinovitz and managing director Yossi Ben-Dov – were called to attend. It followed El-Ad’s Zoom lecture to some 300 12th graders earlier that month, even though the ministry had ordered that the lecture be canceled. Reali had demanded that the ministry explain the legal basis for this order, and when it did not receive a response, it decided to hold the lecture as planned.

Edri’s letter also did not explain the legal basis for the directive. It merely cited Gallant’s decision to deny any organization that “calls Israel false and derogatory names,” “speaks against Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state,” “works against educating students to significant service in the IDF” or “harms or degrades IDF soldiers” access to schools.

“Your decision to hold the conference despite these clear directives merits condemnation,” Edri wrote. He also decided that henceforth, there should be pedagogical supervision of the school’s educational programs, which is not an unusual step.

Edri’s letter was first reported by Army Radio.

After the ruling, Rabinovitz said that he “is satisfied that after seven months, in his final day at his post, the former director general exercised his responsibility and arrived at the conclusion that exposing students to a variety of opinions is not dangerous or harmful to them, and that the school’s endeavors are praiseworthy.” He added that “I will continue, together with the administration, to work to mold adults who are involved and influential in Israeli society, through a balanced exposure to the spectrum that exists in Israel, that doesn’t stand against the laws of the state.”

Sigal Pail, one of the lawyers representing Rabinovitz and Ben-Dov, said the hearing was “a regrettable example of the previous minister’s abuse of power for political purposes. I’m pleased that the Education Ministry under its current leadership has decided to cancel this farce.”

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel said that “Every aspect of this letter lacks any legal, educational or moral basis. Gallant and Edri known very well that there’s no legal basis for keeping B’Tselem – or other human rights organizations – out of schools. The attempt to intimidate teachers through the ‘punishment’ of ‘pedagogical supervision’ is embarrassing and lacks any legal justification

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