Defying Ministry's Intimidation, Israeli School Invites Anti-occupation Group for Lecture

Principal says there is nothing in Education Ministry's directive that disqualifies Breaking the Silence from addressing students.

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Breaking the Silence activists hold signs saying 'this is what the occupation looks like'  at a rally against incitement, Tel Aviv, December 2015.
Breaking the Silence activists hold signs saying 'this is what the occupation looks like' at a rally against incitement, Tel Aviv, December 2015.Credit: Moti Milrod
Yarden Skop

Ram Cohen, principal of the Tichonet High School in Tel Aviv, has defied an Education Ministry directive not to host Breaking the Silence by inviting the anti-occupation group to lecture his teachers and students next week.

Cohen stated on Tuesday that the timing is not coincidental but rather a reaction to the ministry’s announcement. The ministry uploaded to its website on Sunday a new version of the director general’s memorandum dealing with educational discourse on controversial subjects. The goal of the change, according to Education Minister Naftali Bennett, is to prevent principals from inviting Breaking the Silence, but the new memorandum does not explicitly relate to the organization. Education Ministry officials said in recent weeks they had called in two principals who had invited Breaking the Silence.

Ram Cohen in 2013.Credit: Gali Eytan

Cohen told Haaretz on Tuesday, “I think I have an obligation to invite Breaking the Silence, precisely because they are trying to narrow schools’ maneuverability and the space for thought and expression within schools. The group will speak to the teachers, and students are invited to join.”

Cohen, who was called into a hearing over an opinion piece he had written in Haaretz, added, “I read the updated memorandum, and I don’t see any problem inviting the organization. The memorandum does not define Breaking the Silence or its work as forbidden or state that it is forbidden to bring them into schools because of their activities.”

Cohen said the memorandum defines people or groups who deny the legitimacy of the Israel Defense Forces or court institutions, and neither Breaking the Silence nor he deny the army’s legitimacy.

“If anything, this memorandum keeps me from inviting [Habayit Hayehudi] MK Moti Yogev because he threatened that a bulldozer should be used against the Supreme Court,” he said.

Cohen stressed that he did not fear being called into the ministry to explain himself. “I think I am acting in the spirit of the director general’s memorandum,” he said. “I encourage thinking. I make learning relevant. I raise issues on the agenda of Israeli society. I deal with questions of ethics and conflicts, and there is room to encourage critical discourse.”

Breaking the Silence's lecture in Tel Aviv’s Gymnasia Herzliya.Credit: Facebook

He accused the ministry of intimidating teachers to avoid certain issues and asserted that the meeting is important to send a message to teachers not to be afraid.

Breaking the Silence commented: “The resounding and emotional answers to Bennett’s fear campaign are the hundreds of youth and teachers who met with us just in the last few weeks. Like all of Bennett’s previous attempts to prevent a discourse about the moral price Israel pays for the occupation and the settlement policy the government leads, his threats in the director general’s memorandum to prevent us from entering schools turned out to be a political declaration empty of content.

"Not only is there not a word in the memorandum that can prevent Breaking the Silence from visiting schools, it is a call to encourage a value-based and critical discourse about moral aspects of the state’s behavior – exactly what we are doing and will continue to do to end the occupation.”

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