Israeli Teachers Scared to Let High Schoolers Talk Politics in Class, Student Leader Says

It is inconceivable that the Education Ministry does not allow teachers to talk about subjects important to them, student council chairman says

An archive picture of a high-school in Tel Aviv.
Nir Kafri

Israel’s National Student and Youth Council received many complaints last year from high-school students who were prevented from raising political topics in class, the council’s outgoing chairman told Haaretz.

Teachers are afraid to discuss these topics with students, the chairman, Hanan Yazdi, said, particularly in civics classes, even when the issues were directly linked to the course material.

“Many students tell us that their teachers do not feel comfortable opening up such a discussion in class. We are trying to dispel this fear,” said Yazdi. “It’s inconceivable that the Education Ministry would promote values of leadership and involvement, and not let its teachers talk about subjects important to them.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett recently commissioned an ethics code which would bar university professors from expressing political opinions. In addition, there have been instances in the last few years in which high-school teachers have been summoned to the ministry or threatened with dismissal for expressing left-wing political views in the classroom.

Yazdi said that connecting course material to real events is an important element of the learning process, especially in civics classes. “It’s impossible to learn about the right to privacy, for example, without building a bridge between the syllabus and daily events,” he said.

In one case, a student told the council that he was kicked out of class after he tried to discuss a political issue. “Beyond students having the right and even obligation to express their opinion in class on such matters, it is also a way to give them tools to hold a civil debate,” said Yazdi.

“The status quo in which it is impossible to debate issues on the country’s agenda in schools leaves the debate within the borders of WhatsApp and Facebook. Those are not places for true discourse,” he said.

Yazdi, 18, of Haifa, ended his term as chairman on Sunday ahead of his entry into a pre-army community service program. The council was slated to hold elections Sunday evening.