Israel's Education Ministry Summons Tel Aviv Principal for Inviting Anti-occupation Group

Tichonet High School’s Ram Cohen hosted a talk by Breaking the Silence, weeks after the ministry issued instructions meant to deter such events.

The lecture at Tichonet High School in Tel Aviv on December 18, 2016.
The lecture at Tichonet High School in Tel Aviv on December 18, 2016. Credit: Breaking the Silence

A Tel Aviv high school principal has been summoned by the Education Ministry to explain why he invited members of the anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence for a discussion with teachers on Sunday. Some students were also present at the session.

Tichonet High School’s Ram Cohen is the first principal to be summoned since a new directive was issued by ministry instructing schools to refrain from inviting any organization “whose activities could undermine the very legitimacy of government bodies (such as the Israel Defense Forces and the courts).” The inclusion of this wording was reportedly meant to prevent members of Breaking the Silence from entering schools and penalizing principals who invited them to lecture.

Before publication of the new directive earlier this month, the principal of the Adam High School in Jerusalem, Guy Paz, was summoned for clarifications on the same matter. The Education Ministry said the principal of the Gymnasia Herzliya High School in Tel Aviv, Zeev Dagani, had also been summoned by the district head, Hayah Shitai, after a lecture by Breaking the Silence at the school. However, Dagani said he had not been summoned.

Cohen, who is a well-known figure in the education system, was also summoned for a hearing at the Education Ministry in 2013 after he published an opinion piece in Haaretz regarding the elections.

According to Cohen, the current summons is “a message that is meant to be conveyed to other school principals, like a clarification conversation in the Shin Bet security service.” Cohen said Breaking the Silence “does not undermine the legitimacy of the IDF, but rather some of the acts the army does among an occupied civilian population. In fact, the very undermining of illegitimate actions strengthens the army’s legitimacy. It must be understood that [Education Minister Naftali] Bennett doesn’t want talk in class about the things the army is doing.”

Ram Cohen.Credit: Gali Eytan

Bennett decided to ban Breaking the Silence from the schools about a year ago; however, legally, changes still had to be made in the director general’s directive on the matter. Eventually a new memorandum was issued that was very general, stating: “Entry will not be permitted to outside elements and outside speakers whose activities encourage, among other things, racism, discrimination, incitement, calls to violence, party propaganda not in keeping with the director general’s directive on the matter and dialogue that harms the legitimacy of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Entry will also not be permitted to those convicted of an offense that carries moral turpitude or an organization that works against the laws of the State of Israel or an organization whose activities undermine the very legitimacy of state bodies (such as the Israel Defense Forces and the courts).”

Breaking the Silence said in response: “The director general’s directive is not connected to Breaking the Silence because Breaking the Silence does not undermine the legitimacy of the IDF, but rather of the occupation policy of Bennett’s government, who sends IDF soldiers to enforce an immoral military regime on millions of Palestinians.”

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