Far-right Israeli Party Exhorts Principals to Get Students' Parents to Vote for It

Apparently defying law barring political activity by government-funded groups, Union of Right-Wing Parties urges principals from state religious schools to lobby for it

MK Bezalel Smotrich, left, with Rabbi Rafi Peretz, registering their new electoral alliance, called Union of Far-Right Parties, February 21, 2019.
Emil Salman

Dozens of principals from Israel's state religious schools attended a campaign meeting last week run by the Union of Right-Wing Parties, where they were asked to persuade students’ parents to vote for the joint ticket in the upcoming election.

This would be illegal, as the law bars political activity by any state-funded organization and the religious schools in question are all government funded.

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The meeting took place last Wednesday in Givat Shmuel. A researcher for the Democratic Bloc – an Israeli NGO that monitors funding for right-wing groups – was present and recorded the speakers, who included Rabbi Haim Druckman.

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The new electoral alliance consists of three far-right parties: Habayit Hayehudi, National Union and Otzma Yehudit. The leaders of the first two, Rabbi Rafi Peretz and MK Bezalel Smotrich, used the gathering to urge the principals themselves to vote for the joint slate. But the campaign manager went further and explicitly urged the principals to try to persuade their students’ parents to support the ticket.

Smotrich, who opened the event, said, “We’re at a critical juncture. All in all, the cart is moving in the right direction; we have a good, Jewish, nationalist, Zionist government. But this could change in another month …

“What would such a change mean for everything we hold dear and important? What would it mean for the Land of Israel, Jewish identity, the world of values we believe in? What would such a government mean for those sitting here?”

Smotrich asserted that the people sitting in the hall, including principals and leaders of the Bnei Akiva youth movement, “are worth four to five [Knesset] seats,” adding, “Each and every one of you principals and men of action can and must take responsibility.”

The campaign manager, Michael Dukan, began his speech by telling the attendees about the current activities of the new electoral alliance.

“This Friday, we’re getting going,” he said. “We want to take over 100 intersections, 100 central areas. As you’ll notice, ‘The Union of Right-Wing Parties’ doesn’t yet fall trippingly off the tongue. We need to inculcate it. Therefore, posters are important, visibility is important.

“Go out, distribute materials, hand out fliers," he urged the principals. "Everyone will get his junction, his place. At each of these locations, we’ll plaster the place with the party posters, we’ll hand out campaign information.”

The ticket’s slogan, Dukan added, is “‘We’re committed.’ Our party is committed to everything we believe in.”

Dukan then urged the principals to campaign for the party among their own acquaintances, including former students and the parents of current students.

First of all, it is important to begin with "ourselves – each of us with his own family, the people close to him, graduates, parents, etc.," said Dukan. "They all should know and understand what has been clearly explained here – why this is the party we must be committed to.”

Finally, he showed slides explaining in detail what the principals should do: “Hanging posters from balconies, encouraging friends and parents, sending a letter or video clips from the head of the school or the rabbi of the community, making phone calls to people close to us.”

Following the gathering, Yotam Brum, a research fellow at the Berl Katznelson Foundation, which seeks to advance the values of progressive Zionism, lambasted the actions of the Union.

“The school system must remain outside the cynical politics of the parties’ needs,” he said. “This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Habayit Hayehudi and National Union use public institutions for their partisan needs.

“Such a conference isn’t merely forbidden by law, but also violates the trust between parents and students and the schools and directly harms the education system,” he added. “The fact that people from within the system, Rabbi Druckman first and foremost, are spearheading this conduct is outrageous. It necessitates an immediate and effective investigation so that this illegal use of public resources will stop immediately.”

For its part, the Union of Right-Wing Parties responded that, “Everything was done according to law.”