Prominent Israeli-Palestinian Coexistence Group Cuts Ties With Israeli Government

According to a letter received by parents of participants in Seeds of Peace, a U.S.-based non-profit, the break came in response to a ministry demand for greater involvement in its programs

Education Minister Naftali Bennett delivers a speech, December 10, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

An organization active in promoting dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian teenagers for more than 25 years has cut its longstanding ties with the Israeli Education Ministry.

According to a letter received by parents of participants in Seeds of Peace, a U.S.-based non-profit, the break came in response to a ministry demand for greater involvement in its programs.

Since Seeds of Peace was founded in 1993, the ministry has played an active role in recruiting and selecting participants from Israel.

Israel’s education minister is Naftali Bennett, the former head of the Orthodox, settler-aligned Habayit Hayehudi party, who over the weekend announced his surprise decision to leave and form a religious-secular, right-wing party that will run in the upcoming elections.

Bennett has often been accused of using his position at the ministry to promote a right-wing, religious agenda in Israeli schools.

But in a letter sent to parents, Maayan Poleg, the Middle East program director for Seeds of Peace, insisted that the break-up had nothing to do with politics.

“Our partnership did not end because of conflicting political agendas,” she wrote. “The Education Ministry supported and believed in our program from the day of its inception, and despite our separation now, the Education Ministry still believes this is a very good program for youths.”

It was “tempting,” she added, to interpret the ministry’s demand for greater involvement as a no-confidence vote in the program, “but that is not the case.”

Then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin with U.S. President Bill Clinton and PLO chief Yasser Arafat at Oslo I signing ceremony in Washington, 1993
Robert McNeely

Seeds of Peace’s flagship program is a summer camp in Maine that draws participants from conflict zones around the globe.  Graduates of the camp then participate in leadership development programs in their home countries, with a large share of the participants coming from the Middle East.

In a request for comment, Poleg told Haaretz on Tuesday that Seeds of Peace is a completely independent organization and never received any funding from the ministry. “Because we are an independent organization, our future existence is under no threat whatsoever,” she said.

She added that the organization had opted to end ties with the ministry “because it was important for us to work here in Israel as we work in all the other countries where we are active – the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Egypt, India, Pakistan, England and the United States – and we asked the Education Ministry to think of new ways we could cooperate.”

The ministry issued the following statement in response: “Following the unilateral decision of the organization to cut us out of the process of sending student delegations abroad, including the preparation and selection process, we have decided to end our collaboration. The ministry tried to explore (options for) continued cooperation, but the organization rejected our requests.”