Education Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday that he would not allow the non-profit organization Breaking the Silence into the Israeli school system. The group, which was founded by veterans of the Israel Defense Force, is involved in exposing claims of army misconduct in the territories.
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Bennett directed Education Ministry Director General Michal Cohen and other ministry officials to change the directive involving what is known as “educational debate” to specifically exclude “organizations that incite against Israel Defense Forces soldiers, such as Breaking the Silence,” from entering the country's schools.
In explaining his move, Bennett said “lies and incitement against the IDF” would not be allowed in the school system. “Our children are sent to school to educate them toward mutual responsibility, and not to insult IDF soldiers,” Bennett said. “The activities of Breaking the Silence have slandered Israel abroad, and they have made it their goal to hurt their brothers who defend us,” he added.
Bennett's step followed similar action on Monday by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who banned Breaking the Silence activists from engaging in activity in the army. “If Breaking the Silence were really worried about our morality the way we are, they would act directly vis- a-vis the army and not blacken the name of our soldiers abroad,” Ya’alon tweeted. "The more time that goes by, the more this organization is shown to be operating from malicious motives, and we will fight to our utmost against such phenomena,” he added.
Breaking the Silence responded to Bennett's decision: "Over 1,000 fighters who risked their lives defending the settlements and outposts in the territories received a clear message from Bugi and Bennett – 'You're good only as cannon fodder, but after you're done with the dirty work – shut your mouth.' It's time for education workers who care about Israeli democracy to raise their voice, at a time when Bennett is sacrificing the Israeli education system on the altar of the occupation and the settlements."
In a related development, President Reuven Rivlin rejected criticism by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) and MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) over the president's participation in the Haaretz policy conference in New York on Sunday in which representatives of Breaking the Silence also took part.
“I didn’t come to a Breaking the Silence conference," Rivlin told Channel 2 television. "I came to a conference sponsored by Haaretz – a newspaper I’ve read for 70 years to know why what I think is right,” and he called the daily "one of the most important newspapers for the existence of Israeli democracy.”
"All these years I read Haaretz to learn what people who do not share my opinion think,” he told his audience at the Haaretz conference on Sunday. “I am often annoyed and angry by what I read, and I insist on reading the paper again and again."