Watchdog Slams 'Illegal' Israeli Threats to Schools Over Breaking the Silence Talks

Over the past few days, two principals have been challenged for either hosting or seeking to invite the activists for a lecture.

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A member of Breaking the Silence speaking at a school, 2016.
A member of Breaking the Silence speaking at a school, 2016.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Yarden Skop
Yarden Skop

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel accused the Education Ministry on Wednesday of illegally threatening to take measures against school principals for inviting Breaking the Silence activists to lecture their students.

Over the past few days, two principals have been challenged for either hosting or seeking to invite the activists for talks.

Guy Paz, principal of the Adam high school in Jerusalem, was summoned to the Education Ministry for a “clarification” meeting, while Tel Aviv's regional ministry director demanded that Zeev Dagani, principal of the Gymnasia Herzliya high school in Tel Aviv, cancel a planned lecture by the group.

ACRI charged, in a letter to the ministry’s legal advisor, Dorit Morag, that “clarification meetings, like the threatening statements the Education Ministry has issued in this context, are unacceptable and illegal, and therefore, we ask you to instruct all the relevant ministry staffers to cease them immediately and allow students to be exposed to a variety of views.”

“The political controversy over the organization’s activities and its criticism of the state’s leaders on the issue of the occupation have sparked a violent discourse and dangerous incitement against the organization in recent years, with the goal of paralyzing and silencing it.

"It is grave and worrying that the Education Ministry has joined this campaign of incitement,” the letter said.

“There’s no basis to the claim that principals who dared to invite Breaking the Silence violated Education Ministry regulations,” added the letter authored by attorney Sharona Eliahu-Chai.

“It’s true that about a year ago, the education minister announced in the media and on Facebook that he intended to ban the organization from the schools. But there’s no mention of that announcement in Education Ministry regulations.”

Eliahu-Chai said, a directive issued by the ministry's former director-general which is still valid says the opposite.

She quoted the directive as saying that “teachers are expected to expose students to issues on the public agenda and to present and understand the various opinions regarding those issues and the arguments for each of them, with the goal of enabling students to conduct a critical dialogue and consolidate their personal identities and opinions in a well-grounded manner, based on familiarity with a wide variety of views.”

“The steps taken against the principals and the threatening messages the ministry has publicized in this context create a chilling effect on principals and thwart their ability to continue doing their jobs as educators,” the letter concluded.

It demanded that the ministry “issue an immediate clarification regarding the principals’ right and duty to enable their students to freely and intelligently discuss important issues that are controversial within Israeli society, and to expose them to differing and conflicting views, including by inviting a variety of organizations, like Breaking the Silence, to lecture to the students.”

Asked by Haaretz for comment, Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said:

“This is the first step in a suite of actions against those who undermine the Israel Defense Forces and the solidarity of Israeli society. Anyone who goes around the world portraying IDF soldiers as war criminals shall not enter the schools; his place is on the lunatic fringe of Israeli society.

"As long as the Education Ministry, rather than Haaretz, is the one responsible for educating Israeli children, those who incite against the army and the State of Israel won’t meet with students in the education system.”

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