Editorial

Israel’s Education Minister for Racism

Education Minister Rafi Peretz visits students in Modi'in on the first day of the school year, August 29, 2019.
Ilan Assayag

A rotten stench of racism is wafting from the decision by the head of the Habayit Hayehudi party, Education Minister Rafi Peretz, to join forces for the coming election with the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, which spews hatred of Arabs in the spirit of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. With this decision, Peretz has made himself unworthy of serving as education minister of all Israel’s children. We must not remain silent about granting such legitimacy to Jewish racism.

When he became education minister about six months ago, Peretz declared that the motto of the current school year would be “mutual responsibility.” A few weeks later, before the school year began, he added that “we want to shape an ethical society here, one that loves mankind and society.”

There is no connection between the cliches he released into the air to fulfill his obligations, and the reality. On the contrary, in just a few months, Peretz has boasted about “conversion therapy” for LGBT people, supported the unilateral annexation of the West Bank and denied that there is religious indoctrination in the school system. And now he’s putting a seal of approval on Kahanism and the transfer of the Arab population by cooperating with Otzma Yehudit.

“The objectives and actions of the appellant are clearly racist,” the Supreme Court justices said then when they prevented Kahane’s Kach party from running in the 1988 election. They wrote about “systematic incitement of passions on a national-ethnic basis, which leads to hatred and discord and deepens the chasm, a call for a violent revocation of rights, a systematic and deliberate humiliation of particular parts of the population delineated on a national-ethnic basis, and a degradation of them in a way horrifyingly similar to the worst examples experienced by the Jewish people.”

About 30 years have passed, but things have barely changed. Otzma Yehudit leaders Michael Ben Ari, Baruch Marzel and Benzi Gopstein were all disqualified by the Supreme Court either before the April election or the September election. The justices wrote that Ben Ari “systematically incites impulses of hatred toward the Arab community, while regularly humiliating it.” They wrote that Marzel’s statements over the years attest to “a picture of incitement to racism painted in strong colors,” and that Gopstein “systematically incites to racism against the Arab community.” The State Prosecutor’s Office even filed an indictment against Gopstein about a month ago for crimes of incitement to violence, racism and terror.

After the disqualification of the three official racists, Itamar Ben-Gvir remains the famous figure in Otzma Yehudit with whom the education minister agreed this weekend to run in the election. “Racism is a known and familiar social malady,” wrote Supreme Court President Esther Hayut in the ruling on Ben Ari. The way to fight it now involves the schools as well, because by linking up with Kahanists, Peretz has sullied the school system, one of whose tasks is supposed to be nurturing democratic principles.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.