New Directives Could Bar Anti-occupation Group From Israel's Schools

Warning to principals follows lecture by member of Breaking the Silence at high school.

Yarden Skop
Yarden Skop
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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 Education Ministry has posted online the amendments to the director-general’s circular about “educational discussion on controversial topics,” in a clear effort to ban the anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence from making presentations in schools and to punish principals who allow it to do so.

The directives were originally meant to establish how to speak with pupils about controversial issues.

The primary change to the existing circular is the addition of a paragraph at the beginning that states, “This circular clarifies the commitment of those – teachers or outside entities – who speak to pupils to the very existence of the State of Israel and to the State Education Law, and stresses the prohibition against undermining the legitimacy of the State of Israel and its national institutions, while allowing criticism of the state on condition that the discussion is kept within the boundaries cited above.

“Similarly, the circular stresses that entry will not be granted to outside entities and speakers whose activities encourage, inter alia, racism, discrimination, incitement, calls to violence, party propaganda not in keeping with the director-general’s circular on the matter, and discussion that undermines the legitimacy of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

"Nor will entry be granted to speakers who have committed a crime of moral turpitude or an entity that operates contrary to the laws of the State of Israel or an entity whose activity undermines the very legitimacy of state entities (like the Israel Defense Forces or the courts).”

The updated directive does not cite what steps would be taken against principals who violate these rules.

Details of the updated circular had been publicized on Thursday, and Breaking the Silence responded by saying, “Since Breaking the Silence does not undermine the legitimacy of the IDF, but the occupation policy of the Bennett government which sends IDF soldiers to enforce an immoral military regime over millions of Palestinians, then apparently these are once again empty political declarations.”

Attorney Haran Reichman, of the Law and Policy Clinic at the University of Haifa, believes that the circular cannot prevent principals from inviting members of Breaking the Silence to schools.

“The Breaking the Silence group is an organization of combat soldiers who are not coming out against the legitimacy of the Israel Defense Forces but against political policy decisions regarding military control of the territories of Judea and Samaria and exposing the consequences of this policy on Israeli society and on IDF soldiers,” Reichman said. “Therefore, in accordance with the plain language of the circular, it doesn’t seem as if it can restrict entrance to speakers from this organization, as long as the educational institution maintains a proper balance and an open discussion that permits the expression of different positions.

“It should be noted that if the circular had banned speakers from the organization from schools that would mean, practically speaking, that opinions opposing Israeli control in Judea and Samaria could not be heard. This would empty all content from the circular, which is meant to ensure an open and balanced public dialogue about the significant issues in Israeli society.”

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