Officials in Northern Israeli Town Reconsider Dismissal of Teacher Over 'Offensive' Film

Labor court orders Baka al-Garbiyeh officials to re-examine firing Ali Muasi, who showed students Oscar-nominated film 'Omar.'

Ali Muasi, an Israeli Arab high school teacher who was fired for screening the Oscar-nominated Palestinian movie "Omar" to his students.
Rami Shllush

City officials in the northern Israeli town of Baka al-Garbiyeh have acceded to a request by a labor court judge to at least reconsider the firing last month of a local teacher for showing high school students a film that conservative Muslim residents deemed offensive to Arab and Muslim values. At a hearing on Thursday on a lawsuit filed by the teacher against the town and the Education Ministry, labor court Judge Elat Shomrony-Bernstein criticized the city's conduct in dismissing the teacher, Ali Muasi, for showing the film "Omar" to 10th and 11th grade students at the Ibn Sina high school.

The  movie, which won a jury prize at the Cannes film festival and was also nominated for an Oscar, is about a Palestinian baker who is in love with a high school girl he intends to marry. After an Israeli soldier is killed by Palestinians, Omar is arrested and interrogated by the Shin Bet security service, which releases him in exchange for his becoming an informer.

There is a scene in which Omar is seen naked from the back during his interrogation, and a few scenes with his girlfriend that have no explicit sexual elements. Muasi said  in showing the film, he cut out the nude scene as well as other segments that might be considered sensitive by students, even though the film was approved by the Education Ministry and had been previously shown at a local community center.

Samih Abu Mokh, chairman of the Popular Council in Baka al-Garbiyeh and an opponent of the screening, told Haaretz earlier in the controversy that the objection to the film is not an example of religious coercion. Numerous parents, students and other local educators had expressed the belief that the film is not suitable for students, he said. “We have no argument with the teacher’s personal agenda, but such a movie has content that isn’t worthy of being screened at school,” Abu Mokh added.

At a hearing last month in his case, Muasi rejected complaints that the film was inappropriate for his school's students. At Thursday's hearing, Judge Shomrony-Bernstein suggested that municipal officials reconsider the teacher's dismissal and explore other options in addressing the complaints against Muasi, an Arabic-language teacher and the cultural and community coordinator at his school. The city's mayor, Morsi Abu Mokh, agreed to have the case re-examined, and the city is due to provide its response by Tuesday.

Thursday's hearing was attended by a number of friends of Muasi, as well as representatives of the Mossawa advocacy center for Arab rights in Israel, in a show of support. Muasi is a member of the Balad party, a faction of the Joint Arab List. Balad condemned the teacher's dismissal and also called on the mayor to reconsider the case.