Israeli Minister's Decision on B'Tselem Is an Insult to Education

Haaretz Editorial
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High school students prepare for their summer matriculation exams in math, in Jerusalem, June 29, 2020.
High school students prepare for their summer matriculation exams in math, in Jerusalem, June 29, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Haaretz Editorial

Education Minister Yoav Gallant’s failed attempt to bar B’Tselem’s executive director, Hagai El-Ad, from addressing students at a Haifa high school is further proof that an anti-democratic plague is spreading in Israel.

It also underscores the great importance of the online seminar organized by the Hebrew Reali School in Haifa, to the dismay of the right. The webinar was titled “Military control in Judea and Samaria and protection of human rights – do they go together?” This is a rhetorical question; military control and occupation go hand in hand with the violation of human rights, just as every kind of authoritarian regime requires censorship, silencing, political persecution and curtailment of freedom of expression, as Gallant has proved.

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On Sunday, the education minister ordered his ministry’s director general to bar schools from hosting organizations “that treat Israeli soldiers with contempt and call Israel an apartheid state.” His use of the word “apartheid” was no accident. Last week, B’Tselem published a position paper that rejected the accepted view of Israel as a democratic state that simultaneously maintains a temporary occupation regime in the territories, in favor of describing Israel as a single polity between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea that maintains an apartheid regime throughout this territory.

Right-wing governments have sought to make the occupation vanish from the public conversation, along with everything maintaining the occupation entails, first and foremost the encounter between Israeli soldiers and a civilian Palestinian population. There are no cracks in the right’s narrative: Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, there is no occupation, the Israel Defense Forces is the world’s most moral army, there are no war crimes, there are no human rights violations – and if there were any, it was a mistake, and the IDF will investigate, judge and (fail to) punish the culprits.

B’Tselem and other opponents of the occupation put cracks in the right’s narrative and remind people of the repressed reality – the occupation and its crimes, the settlement enterprise and its growth, the diplomatic rejectionism, the dreams of annexation. Consequently, the right tries to silence them and outlaw them and their messages.

In the wake of Gallant’s order, the Education Ministry’s director for the Haifa region instructed Reali’s CEO to cancel B’Tselem’s participation in the webinar. But the principal of the school’s upper division, Mendi Rabinovitz, rejected this attempt at silencing and insisted on holding the webinar, which had already been postponed once due to criticism by a right-wing activist. On Monday, the webinar took place, with El-Ad speaking alongside Haaretz columnist Nave Dromi, who is affiliated with the right.

Rabinovitz was right to insist on holding the webinar, as he had promised to do last month. No one should give in to the right’s bullying or cave to an education minister who doesn’t understand the meaning of education. Gallant should conduct his election campaign on someone else’s back, not on the backs of Israeli students.

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

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