Teacher's Anti-gay Remarks Highlights Lingering Problem in Israeli Schools

The ORT school network says the matter will be investigated and if an apology is in order it will be issued.

A gay student at the ORT high school in Ariel says he heard his math teacher telling her class that she personally can't stand gays last week, but despite a promise from the teacher to address the issue, no apology has been forthcoming. The ORT school network said the matter will be investigated and if an apology is in order it will be issued.

"ORT Israel and the school administration do not and will not tolerate any demonstration of intolerance from any side," they said.

ORT Ariel student - Hadar Cohen - 21122011
Hadar Cohen

The 12th-grader at the ORT Yuvalei Comprehensive High School in Ariel, who declined to be named, says the problem began with a group of students discussing gays.

"I was sitting in a math lesson and listening to what was developing on the other side of the room," he said. "Occasionally there were remarks such as 'Only gays do a year of National Service,' and 'Everyone who's a [youth] counselor is gay.' I'm used to hearing that nonsense and that's why I decided to keep quiet, until I heard the teacher becoming involved in the discussion: 'I personally can't stand gays,' she declared, and ended the discussion." The student, who came out of the closet about half a year ago, said he was shocked.

"I was simply horrified to hear a person who is supposed to be an educator, who is supposed to help me formulate my identity, giving legitimacy to homophobia," he said. "At the end of the lesson, I went up to her and told her what was on my mind, that she is a partner to raising teenagers who are being educated to hate the [gay] community, but she said that that's her opinion, and she has a right to speak and to say what she thinks. I asked her to apologize in front of the entire class and after a long conversation she said she would talk about it in the next lesson."

But when he came to school the next day, he says the issue was never brought up. "I simply got up in the middle of the lesson and left. I'm not willing to sit with a teacher who is fueling the extremist homophobes of tomorrow who may even murder again," he said.

Yaniv Weizman, chairman of the Israel Gay Youth organization, says the story is all-too familiar.

"Too often in the school system you seen that the kids are the ones fighting against the teachers and the students instead of the opposite," he said. "It's not at all easy for a boy to come and tell the teacher 'You can't talk that way.' There are few schools that deal with the problem ... The Education Ministry actually is making an effort, but there are benighted, racist and homophobic teachers."

In the present school year there will be informational activity about sexual orientation in only 60 schools in the country. Still, the number is an increase over last year, according to Irit Zvieli-Efrat, director of LGBT education outfit Hoshen, which is the only group with permission from the Education Ministry to conduct external educational campaigns on the subject.

Zvieli-Efrat says that in Ariel there is no activity sponsored by the organization. "People will be surprised to learn that even in Tel Aviv, which is ostensibly the open and liberal city, we don't conduct any activities," she said. "We hear it said that there is no need for such activity, because it's an open city. But even there we're seeing a very drastic increase in cases of violence toward the [gay] community. If the general atmosphere in Israel would become more moderate and that was why there isn't so much educational activity, we could accept that. But just the opposite is the case."

In a survey conducted by the Israel Gay Youth organization among teenagers belonging to the gay community, a quarter of the respondents testified to homophobic comments by teachers. Over half of them said that teachers don't react to homophobic remarks made in their presence.

The Education Ministry said in response that the Ariel case was under investigation. "The ministry is totally opposed to manifestations of homophobia and is promoting a clear policy on the subject, by means of public relations campaigns," the ministry said.