Israel to Probe Suspicions of Sexual Abuse at Elite Art School

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The Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts in Givatayim, Israel.
The Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts in Givatayim, Israel.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday he has ordered an investigation of the claims of sexual exploitation at the Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts in Givatayim. On Friday, Israeli artist and former teacher at the school, Boaz Arad, was found dead in the yard of his home after he committed suicide. On Thursday, the Mako website reported that Arad was being investigated for allegedly having sexual relations with female students at Thelma Yellin, where he had taught art from 1983 to 2006.

Bennett has instructed the ministry’s director general, Shmuel Abuav, to conduct an in-depth examination of the events at Thelma Yellin “in order to draw conclusions, both concerning the school and concerning the entire educational system,” said the Education Ministry in its first response to the claims of sexual abuse. The ministry had declined to comment earlier.

Arad, who was 62, was a well-regarded artist who had mounted numerous exhibitions, as well as having taught at Bezalel Academy of Arts and at Beit Berl College. The report on Mako included a conversation with a woman who claimed to have had a sexual relationship with Arad that began when she was 16 and lasted four years. She said other female students also had sexual relations with him.

According to G.’s testimony on Mako, Arad asked her to keep the relationship a secret at first. He was 20 years older than she was. When she turned 18 she moved in with him. She said her friends were excited when they learned of their relationship. “We all worshipped him, he was like a god, and suddenly this god-like figure pays attention to me, shining a spotlight on me. I felt very special,” she said.

According to Mako, Arad denied that he had sexual relations with his students while they were still in high school, saying it started only after they had graduated. He sounded very emotional when talking with Mako. “I had male and female friends among the students while I was a teacher, but I never crossed the line with them. There is a judicial system in many countries including Israel, and a person is innocent until proven otherwise. There is also a statute of limitations,” he told a Mako reporter.

Artist Boaz Arad at his home. Credit: Tali Shani

After Arad’s suicide, the principal of Thelma Yellin, Moshe Philosoph, said the school does not remain silent about any harm to its students and his first job as principal is to provide a safe environment for the children. This, he said, comes “alongside the open-door policy and the emotional dialogue intended to prevent such cases and identify them in their early stages.”

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