Israel Must Stand by Arab Teacher Fired After Pressure by Local Salafists

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Ali Muasi, an Israeli Arab high school teacher who was fired for screening the Oscar-nominated Palestinian movie "Omar" to his students.
Ali Muasi, an Israeli Arab high school teacher who was fired for screening the Oscar-nominated Palestinian movie "Omar" to his students.Credit: Rami Shllush

Until this week Ali Muasi was a teacher of Arabic at a high school in Baka al-Gharbiyeh. He was fired by the municipality for his decision to screen the movie “Omar” to 10th and 11th grade pupils last month. The official pretext for his dismissal was that the film offends pupils’ sensibilities and contains scenes “that are incompatible with Islamic values,” in the words of a representative of the Salafist movement in the city.

However, the movie, an Oscar contender in the foreign movie category in 2013, was screened in coordination with the student council and with the knowledge of the school’s principal. The movie is included in Israel's approved “cultural basket.” Muasi says that during the screening he actually censored a few scenes that could have been too sensitive. Given all this, it’s hard not to suspect that political, rather than educational, motives were behind the municipality’s decision to fire him, following a hearing. Those in charge of education in the city could have prevented the screening at the time it was included in the list of approved movies, or demanded that the movie be removed from the “basket” after its inclusion.

One can debate the movie’s content and one may think that it’s unsuitable for certain age groups, even though the film presents dilemmas faced by Palestinian youth as a result of the occupation. However, the dual problem lies in the arbitrary dismissal of a teacher and in the fact that the Education Ministry has ignored the issue, based on a formalistic claim that Muasi was employed by the municipality, which is the body responsible for hiring and firing.

Omar - Official Trailer

Arab society in Israel is perceived as a cultural and national enclave, in whose deliberations government ministries do not interfere unless there are signs of “insurrection” or “subversion,” directed against the state. Thus, the showing of a play at the al-Midan theater, which was interpreted as giving a voice to terrorists, led to severe cuts in its budget. But when political or ideological disputes lead to formal cultural censorship which harms the rights of employees, not only do state authorities fall silent but so do Jewish proponents of freedom of expression. If a Jewish teacher was fired for screening an “inappropriate” movie at a Jewish school, one can just imagine the outcry against the municipality and the Education Ministry that would follow, with countrywide protests by teacher organizations, intellectuals, politicians and activists in the arts world.

Ali Muasi needs the protection of the Education Ministry, as well as the backing of Jewish intellectuals and educators, despite his belonging to an alienated “enclave.” The decision by the Baka al-Gharbiyeh municipality should be examined not just for its legal aspects but for the values it invokes, as a body that blatantly harmed the cultural freedom of expression and the rights of one of its teachers.

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