The hearing the Education Ministry held last Thursday for the heads of Haifa’s Hebrew Reali School, simply because they dared to invite the executive director of B’Tselem to talk to their students, was meant to intimidate educators and deter them from engaging with the reality of the occupation and the routine of military control over the Palestinians, which the right-wing government denies. From start to finish, this was a political hearing that sought to “reeducate” teachers and principals, and it’s doubtful whether there was any legal basis for it. There should be no mistake about the message sent by Education Minister Yoav Gallant’s actions: Teachers and principals are expected to fall in line with the right’s political positions by either obeying them or keeping silent.
Over the last two decades, right-wing education ministers have becoming experts at turning the ministry into a vehicle for reducing freedom of expression and engaging in political indoctrination. They have vetoed textbooks, rewritten curricula, enacted restrictions and threatened disciplinary action – which was sometimes even carried out – against anyone who deviated from saying without doubt or question that Israel is always right, with respect to the past, present and future- from looking into the circumstances under which Palestinians were expelled during the War of Independence, the denial of human rights in the territories to an absence of thought about what Israel may will look like in another 50 years. The paucity of thought and discussion in classrooms clearly serves the annexationist nationalist right.
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In the summons to the hearing sent to Reali’s principal, Mendi Rabinovitz, and its CEO, Yossi Ben-Dov, Education Ministry Director General Amit Edri used selective quotations from various laws. Edri and the minister who appointed him would have been wiser to read the State Education Law, which says that one of the main goals of education is to develop “an attitude of respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, democratic values and obedience to the law,” while others include “bolstering judgment and critical thinking” and “developing intellectual curiosity, independent thinking and initiative.” It’s impossible to accept an education minister who seeks to punish principals for doing exactly that by opening a small window onto an issue shrouded in silence, like the connection between the occupation and human rights.
Faced with an education minister who doesn’t understand what education is and bureaucrats who collaborate with his every whim, the attorney general must put a halt to this attempt at censorship. It would seem that the Justice Ministry also understands the “fear of possible infringement on freedom of expression, which is the most important and fundamental right in a democratic system of government,” as it wrote to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. Schools cannot avoid discussing issues that the right-wing government seeks to silence. That is their civic and educational duty to their students and themselves, especially now. Therefore, they should also invite B’Tselem’s director, Hagai El-Ad. That would be a fitting response to Gallant’s attempt to gag them by holding a hearing.