Let Our Students Be Skeptical

Zehava Galon
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Students raise their hand during class at a school in central Israel
Students raise their hand during class at a school in central Israel.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Zehava Galon

Boyar High School in Jerusalem decided last week to prevent a meeting between students and six members of the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace organization (aka the Parents Circle Families Forum), after right-wing activists – including Itamar Ben Gvir, the trigger-happy MK in the parking lot – threatened to demonstrate in front of the school. The school administration informed the students that because “some of you are not sufficiently mature,” it was canceling the event. In other words, even before the demonstration itself.

We can understand the school administration. After all, the present education minister followed in the footsteps of her predecessor and refused to grant the Israel Prize to left-wing Prof. Oded Goldreich, although it was awarded to him by an independent committee. A year earlier, due to similar pressure by right-wing bullies, the Reali High School in Haifa rejected a meeting between the students and B’Tselem. (In the end, it was held.)

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When Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was education minister, he passed a law (empty of content) that forbids activists from the anti-occupation NGO Breaking the Silence to meet students. Why should the school administration get into trouble with the education minister and annoy the prime minister? Why be sprayed in the face by the water hose that right-wing activists are skilled at operating?

It’s understandable, but it’s still wrong and disgraceful. The role of a school is to prepare students for life. To give them the broadest possible perspective. To explain the world in which they themselves will act within a short time. And yes, to explain to them what will be demanded of them when they are soldiers doing compulsory service: to be the settlers’ security guards and to do their bidding.

The world is not black and white, it is not “a law that Esau hates Jacob”; it’s colorful, strange, sometimes scary, very disturbing. And still it’s the world that they will confront, and in which they will have to act. A school that raises a submissive generation that won’t ask questions is limiting students' worldview to the right-wing fantasies of perpetual war, and harming them. It is denying them understanding and alternative paths.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose signing we mentioned two weeks ago, asserts (Article 26) that “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial and religious groups.”

The Israeli school system frequently violates this convention. In 2014 the teacher Adam Verta was dismissed because he questioned the morality of the Israel Defense Forces. In 2010, when Gideon Sa’ar was education minister, the Education Ministry rejected a brochure about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because it mentioned two shocking facts: People have a right to change their religion, and a right to emigrate from their homeland.

That’s how the right wants the State of Israel to be: an insular, hysterical country that time and again must scream at its students that “we’re right, we’re right, we’re right […] Wake up in the morning and hey! We’re right again.” Hanoch Levin wrote these lines about 50 years ago, and this darkness is still here.

“From the place where we’re right / Flowers will never grow in the spring.” Let the students have doubts. Let them question. Let them know the world as it is, flawed and crying out for repair. Teach them to repair it, and not to entrench themselves in bunkers of fear and hatred. That’s difficult? Did anyone say life is easy? Students are not supposed to be our copy, they have to blossom on their own, to become colorful flowers, gleaming in their own way. That’s what education is supposed to be.

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