Education Minister Bars Rights Groups Calling Israel 'Apartheid State' From Schools

Gallant was responding to complaints over the director of the human rights group B’Tselem who is slated to address students at a Haifa elite high school

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Education Minister Yoav Gallant
Education Minister Yoav GallantCredit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

Education Minister Yoav Gallant said Sunday that he has ordered his ministry’s director general to bar schools from hosting organizations “that treat IDF soldiers contemptuously and call Israel an apartheid state.”

He was responding to complaints from Likud Knesset members over the fact that Hagai El-Ad, the director of the human rights group B’Tselem, is slated to address students at a Haifa high school on Monday in a Zoom lecture.

El-Ad was originally scheduled to deliver the lecture at Haifa’s Hebrew Reali School last month, but it was cancelled following pressure from right-wing groups. He learned about the cancelation only from reading about it in Haaretz.

Last week, B’Tselem launched a new campaign in which it claimed that Israel maintains an apartheid regime in the entire territory “between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River,” meaning both inside Israel and in the territories.

Gallant said he sought to bar the entry of any organization whose activities “contradict the goals of state education, including by calling Israel false and derogatory names or by speaking against Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state or by working against educating students to significant service in the IDF or by activities intended to harm or degrade IDF soldiers during or after their service. As an example, an organization that calls Israel an ‘apartheid state’ won’t be allowed entry to educational institutions in Israel.”

He was apparently relying on a law passed in 2018 that was intended to bar another group, Breaking the Silence, from the schools. That law authorized the education minister to set rules for barring individuals or organizations from the schools if they aren’t part of the education system and their activities either “severely and substantially contradict the goals of state education” or are aimed at “generating legal or diplomatic action overseas against Israeli soldiers.”

But so far, no such regulations have ever been enacted. Gallant’s office said he is working on them now, and the letter was sent by dint of his authority “to set policy.”

Hagai El-Ad, head of B'Tselem in front of the separation barrier, West Bank, March 24, 2018.Credit: Emil Salman

The school said it hasn’t yet heard anything from the ministry on this issue.

The school also invited right-wing columnist Nave Dromi to join El-Ad in Monday’s Zoom lecture, thereby ensuring “variety.” The lecture, titled “Military control in Judea and Samaria and protection of human rights – do they go together?” will also feature attorney Daniel Haklai and Oded Feller, head of the legal department of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

The right-wing movement Im Tirtzu slammed El-Ad’s participation in the lecture, while Likud lawmaker Nissim Vaturi asked Gallant to bar him from it.

The school responded that it believes in “pluralism, freedom of expression and freedom of opinion. For many years we’ve exposed our students to a broad variety of opinions from across Israel’s political spectrum. We respect the students’ right to express their opinion and are proud of their involvement in issues at the heart of Israeli society. We hold respectful dialogues and intend to continue this tradition. Our graduates’ presence at the forefront of action in Israel is a testimony to that and will continue to be so in the coming years as well.”

Prior to Galant’s announcement, B’Tselem said, “We are happy that we will be able to talk to Reali students about the apartheid reality between the Mediterranean and the Jordan and the infringement of human rights under the occupation. It’s clear to us that it’s not easy to hear what we have to say. It’s easier to think that we’re good and just, and that is exactly what the education system tells students, almost exclusively. It’s hard to recognize and deal with the reality of Israel in 2021, but this is our obligation.”

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