Jerusalem School Nixes Meeting With Leftist NGO Following Pressure

The Boyar High School principal says that students are not 'ready and available' for the event, but sources in the school say that the administration caved to the right-wing protest

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Mae Boyar High School in Jerusalem, on Wednesday.
Mae Boyar High School in Jerusalem, on Wednesday. Credit: Emil Salman
Or Kashti
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A Jerusalem high school has scrapped a meeting between 12th grade students and representatives of the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace organization that had been scheduled for Thursday, as right-wing activists have threatened to protests outside the school.

Mae Boyar High School's administration wrote to students on Tuesday, saying the meeting with the organization would be held “at a later date,” because "some of you are not ready or available." Others at the school said that the decision to postpone the event was instead the result of "a shameful surrender to pressure from the extreme right."

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As they had in past years, 12th graders were supposed to have a 90 minute-long encounter with representatives of the organization, which is also known as the Parents Circle-Families Forum.

Among the six representatives who had been due to participate was Yuval Roth, whose brother was kidnapped and killed in 1993 by members of Hamas; and Yacoub al-Rabi, whose wife, Aisha, was killed about three years ago when she was hit by a rock thrown at her car near the West Bank settlement of Rehelim. A young Jewish defendant is currently on trial in the Central District Court in Lod, accused of killing her.

After learning about plans for this year’s program, right-wing activists appealed to members of the public on social media to turn out for a protest on Thursday morning. “Have we gone crazy, bringing the families of terrorists into the schools?” extreme right-wing Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir wrote.

“Now they’re poisoning the students’ hearts,” added activist Ran Carmeli Buzaglo. Another post alleged that “while the terrorist kill Jews and plan the next murder, at Boyar, they’re holding a gathering called ‘the Joint Forum of Victims.’” Some of the students also objected to the event.

After several days of tension, on Tuesday the school’s principal, Dafna Menashe Baruch, decided to scrap Thursday’s event. “In recent days, we have been witness to lively discourse around the planned visit of Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace,” a statement to the students said. “After numerous conversations with you, we felt that at this stage, some of you are not ready and or available for a meeting of listening and dialogue.” The principal did not provide a new date for the event, but said that it would take place “in the course of the year.”

Participants at an alternative Memorial Day ceremony held by the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace organization in Tel Aviv, in 2018.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Some at the school were critical of the decision. “It is impossible to talk about the importance of pluralism, freedom of thought and freedom of expression on one hand, and on the other, to cancel the meeting with the bereaved families,” one student said. “In past years, the reactions were no less harsh, but the school didn’t give in.”

“We don’t need to be concerned about the students’ positions, even those who oppose the meeting,” said another source at the school. “There’s no problem with a demonstration outside the school gate. It sparks dialogue and could serve as an example of disagreements that exist in a democracy. The argument about ‘a lack of readiness’ on the part of students raises questions.”

Twelfth-grade students from the school recently met with Sameh Zakout and Uriya Rosenman, the creators of the video “Let’s Talk Straight,” which deals with Arab-Jewish relations. Some of the students at the program expressed negative opinions against Arabs, but “the attentiveness in the course of the meeting proved their capacity to be inclusive and to deal with a range of opinions,” said one source.

The Mae Boyar High School, established and operated by the Society for Advancement of Education of Jerusalem, is considered one of Jerusalem’s most prestigious secondary schools. Including the adjacent dormitory, it has a student body of about 1,000 students in grades seven through 12. Some of them are Jerusalem residents, and some are not.

“Since Boyar’s establishment, the school has placed an emphasis on educating students in the values of justice, open-mindedness and societal involvement, and acting as champions love and respect for mankind, love of the land and acceptance of others,” the school’s website states.

At Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace, some said the school administration has decided to plan a preparatory meeting between the organization and the school's staff, to lay the groundwork for a future meeting with the whole student body.

The co-directors of the organization, Osama Abu-Ayasha and Yuval Rahamim, issued a statement saying that such meetings “create discourse and dialogue that the students don’t have the opportunity to get in any other setting. This is a unique opportunity for exposure to the possibility of reconciliation between the peoples, which unfortunately is perceived as a threat for a certain [segment of the] public.”

The organization, the statement added, would continue to speak “before any teacher, student and setting to which we are invited, and we will not surrender to wild campaigns of incitement and violence – which are the fuel for the dismal situation that we have been in for so many years.”

A request for comment by the school’s principal was not answered at press time.

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