The Education Commissar

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Naftali Bennett, head of the Beit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party, December 27, 2012.
Naftali Bennett, head of the Beit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party, December 27, 2012. Credit: REUTERS

The passage of a law that will bar organizations from lecturing at schools if they don’t suit Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s world view once again proves that what interests the Habayit Hayehudi party chairman isn’t education, but controlling what it is or isn’t permissible to discuss with the next generation of voters. The law gives the education minister far-reaching powers, some of which were added at the last second, to curtail freedom of expression and freedom of thought. 

The idea that the education system, in all its diverse views, should be subordinated to a single truth from the school of Bennett and his aides is unacceptable. Anyone to whom education and democracy are important should reject this blatant attempt to gag others.

Late Monday night, the Knesset approved this amendment to the State Education Law, which has become known informally as the “Breaking the Silence Law,” in the second and third of its three required votes. It constitutes another brick in the government’s war – which is being waged by everyone from the prime minister down to the last MK in the parties of the governing coalition, with embarrassing cooperation from the Yesh Atid party, whose MKs were among the law’s sponsors – against anyone who opposes the occupation. 

Originally, the bill was meant to bar the Breaking the Silence organization from lecturing at schools – or to use the law’s euphemistic legalese, any person or organization “who is actively working to institute legal proceedings outside Israel against IDF soldiers on account of activities conducted in the course of their duties.” It was introduced after directives from the Education Ministry director general failed to stop the principals, who believed it was their educational duty to prepare their students for reality, which happens to include the occupation. 

But in the dead of night, MK Amir Ohana (Likud) added a provision to the law that would also make it apply to B’Tselem and its executive director, Hagai El-Ad, who attended a UN Security Council debate and urged the council to impose sanctions on Israel.

Moreover, the amendment authorizes every education minister to set rules barring access to the schools to any outside person or organization “whose activity stands in severe and significant contradiction to the goals of state education.” This wording will allow Bennett and his successors to bar any organization which contradicts their political views, in the name of defending the unspecified “goals of state education.”

This law is a glaring example of the way efforts to silence opposition to the occupation are undermining our entire democratic structure. Now, freedom of expression is being limited to the education minister’s position – that is, to the commissar’s political views.

By approving this dangerous law, Bennett and the rest of the governing coalition have made it clear that they don’t understand the charge with which they were entrusted. The education system doesn’t belong to Habayit Hayehudi. These commissars have no authority to determine what is talked about in the classroom. Nor, to put it more broadly, have they any authority to make opposition to the occupation illegal.

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