Editorial

Israel’s Minister of Reeducation

Education Ministry’s reprimand of a high-school principal who had the New Israel Fund address students demonstrates how far the government’s groupthink has gone

Education Minister Naftali Bennett
Olivier Fitoussi

The right-wing government’s incitement and delegitimization campaign doesn’t stop even when Israelis’ attention is directed beyond the country’s borders. The right is determined to eliminate the public discussion of opinions that contradict its own. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who is responsible for shaping the consciousness of the younger generation, plays a central role in the process.

On Friday it was reported that a high school principal in the Tel Aviv suburb of Savyon was reprimanded by the Education Ministry for inviting a representative of the New Israel Fund to speak (Or Kashti, Haaretz). The misery the principal suffered at the hands of ministry staffers proved the efficacy of the political persecution machine. It turns out there’s no need for written directives explicitly banning contact with the NIF. The clerks made it clear that the principal should have understood this on his own, in keeping with the “public mood” cultivated by Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, violent manifestations of which feature in Im Tirtzu’s incitement campaign against the NIF.

The principal, Yaniv Bachar, decided to devote a learning enrichment activity to the fight against the expulsion from Israel of asylum seekers. An NIF activist gave a one-hour lecture on the issue some two weeks ago. A small group of parents complained to the ministry about what it called a “left-wing extremist” spreading anti-Israel hatred and carrying out “dangerous brainwashing.” In today’s political climate, little else is necessary.

The ministry’s rapid response is cause for panic: It was repeatedly explained to Bachar that there were no grounds to discuss the expulsions; that inviting the NIF was “very problematic” since it is a “controversial organization”; that while there is no explicit ban, the school must knuckle under to Bennett’s attacks and the “public mood” against the group. Bachar was also reprimanded for sharing on Facebook, some 18 months ago, an op-ed critical of Bennett that was brought to the ministry’s attention by persons unknown.

Last week Bachar was called in by the ministry’s district director for clarification. In the ministry’s Newspeak such a meeting is not a “clarification” but a reprimand, even if nothing is placed in the employee’s personnel file. No less important is delineating the shrinking limits of what is permissible. The message is clear: Principals and teachers may not raise a fuss. It’s better to keep quiet.

Bennett’s office stressed that the matter was dealt with “by professional ministry staff and in accordance with their discretion alone.” Perhaps Bennett’s intervention really was unnecessary: The demand for obedience has already been internalized. There are many educators who believe it is their duty to expose their students to as many aspects as possible of reality. It’s difficult to stand up to the silencing efforts in the upper echelons of the Education Ministry, but any other option is much worse.

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