A veteran elementary school teacher resigned a few days before the school year began because a group of parents accused her of being “too left-wing” and threatened to remove their children from her class.
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Some of the accusations, which quickly spread from the class WhatsApp group and sparked a public debate in the well-off southern town where the school is located, were based on posts the parents found on the teacher’s Facebook page. Others appear to have no basis at all.
But due to the controversy, the teacher eventually decided to transfer to another school. According to one of her friends, she said “the class had become a battlefield” and she didn’t want her students to suffer. She is currently weighing legal action against the parents.
Last Sunday the town’s mayor called the teacher, who has more than 20 years’ experience, and said he had received complaints from parents of the students slated to be in her class. He later said his intention was merely “to inform the teacher, so she’d be aware that people were starting to talk and not feel pressured. I didn’t want her to break. That’s the opposite of what we teach.”
But the teacher’s friends said this call was the harbinger of a witch hunt over her political opinions.
The complaint to the mayor included several screenshots of the teacher’s Facebook page. One showed the classroom calendar, which featured posters the students had made about asylum-seekers as part of a lesson on the status of the stranger in the Bible. The posters said things like “The refugees are people like me” and “The refugees have no rights – they also need to live.”
Another Facebook post expressed support for Breaking the Silence, an anti-occupation Israeli veterans group, and yet another called for ending the war in the Gaza Strip. All the posts in the complaint were from previous years.
The teacher’s profile picture carries the text, “You can’t hate forever.” Another picture from about a year ago bore the caption, “My red line: No to forcibly deporting asylum-seekers.”
The complaint was initially made by two sets of parents. Although they hadn’t yet met the teacher, they deemed her a leftist and “too political” based on her Facebook page. They therefore demanded that she not teach their children, and other parents soon joined them.
Meanwhile, other allegations began appearing on the class WhatsApp group: the teacher had visited checkpoints in the territories and “spit at the soldiers,” and her children didn’t serve in the army. (Both these allegations are baseless.)
The school’s principal and the Education Ministry both sided with the teacher when the parents threatened to remove their children from her class. Moreover, the parents who wanted her gone were outnumbered by the parents who urged her to stay. But the dispute soon moved off WhatsApp and into the streets of the town where both the parents and the teacher live.
“It created a huge rift in the community, and the class had become a battlefield,” one of the teacher’s friends said. “She wasn’t willing to accept a situation in which even one child might leave the classroom because she was in it. She preferred to leave so that nobody would be hurt.”
A few days later, the teacher found a job at another school.
Students and parents have complained about teachers' political opinions in several other cases in recent years. The most famous incident was that involving Adam Verete, a teacher at the ORT high school in Kiryat Tivon. In 2014, he was summoned for a pre-dismissal hearing after students complained that he was voicing leftist views in the classroom. Due to public pressure, he didn’t lose his job at that hearing. But he was later fired due to “downsizing.”
Attorney Eli Unger, who is representing the elementary school teacher, said she “became a target of ridicule and contempt among a group of parents and many residents of the town, all because of untrue allegations that defied reality.” He added that it was wrong for the parents to have complained to the mayor.
The Education Ministry said in response that "the teacher is a well respected professional. Sadly, the teacher decided not to start to the new school year in the community to which she was assigned; at her request, she returned to her previous post."