Organizations that testify against Israel at international forums could be barred from schools soon, if a bill supported by Education Minister Naftali Bennett becomes law.
“Organizations that go abroad and harm IDF soldiers will not enter schools,” Bennett said. “The education system invests a lot in promoting values like contributing to the state, and a body that harms the state here or abroad will not destroy that.”
The bill, submitted by Bayit Yehudi MKs Shuli Moalem-Refaeli and Bezalel Smotrich, and signed by lawmakers in coalition and opposition parties, would add “encouraging significant service in the IDF and protecting the status and honor of the IDF in Israeli society” to the goals of public education listed in the law.
In addition, the proposed bill would allow the education minister to “prevent any activity in an educational institution of any kind by outside people or organizations whose activities significantly and blatantly contradict this goal of education, or the activities of the person or organization raise the concern that IDF soldiers will be put on trial in international or foreign courts for actions they took in the framework of their service.”
The proposal comes in response to efforts by organizations like Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem and others that have accused the IDF of war crimes at the UN and other international forums.
Last December, Bennett ordered the Education Ministry not to allow Breaking the Silence into schools.
Moalem-Refaeli said that the education system is meant to teach children to love their country, not destroy it.
“Schools funded by taxpayer money will not be used to give a platform to those who want to undermine the state. Whoever is trying to subvert the Jewish people’s right to exist in its land will not be able to do so between the walls of our public school system,” she stated.
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, a supporter of the bill, said that “organizations that slander IDF soldiers and officers, call them war criminals and encourage draft-dodging” should not be allowed in schools.
“Think what happens to a student who hears these stories a moment before enlisting in the IDF, what this does to his motivation and willingness to contribute,” Lapid stated.
“These organizations hurt soldiers, endanger them with the threat of being put on trial and harm the State of Israel in the international community by spreading blatant lies – and now they want to spread their false ideas among our children.”
Others in the opposition came out against the proposal.
Meretz faction chairman Ilan Gilon called Bennett “the high priest of hilltop youth” and the “education commissar” and said he should not be preaching morals or lecturing to “courageous educators who dare to fulfill their professional mission and their values and allow students to see reality as it is, even when it’s difficult, painful and controversial.”
MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union) tweeted that her and Lapid’s children heard “Breaking the Silence” in their Tel Aviv high school and came out unscathed.
Last year, Bennett banned the group from the education system for disseminating “lies and propaganda against the IDF.” Yet despite this directive, principals were not deterred from inviting representatives of the group to speak at their schools. In the past month, three high school principals invited the group to speak to teachers and students, defying the directive.
Earlier this month, the Education Ministry released a new director-general’s memorandum in an attempt to refine the current guidelines in place with regard to school discussions on controversial issues – and unequivocally ban the Breaking the Silence group from appearing in schools.
However, the updated memorandum was insufficient deterrence, as it failed to clarify the penalty for violating the directive. Meanwhile, the principals have been summoned to the ministry for a hearing.
While the Education Ministry has not been able to successfully keep the organization out of schools to date, the anti-BDS group Reservists on Duty has been going to these same schools in an effort to provide a counter lecture to students. On Tuesday, Amit Deri, founder and chairman of Reservists on Duty, welcomed Bennett’s new initiative.
“Not long ago we revealed that the pamphlet distributed by Breaking the Silence in schools states that ‘physical violence is constantly employed by IDF soldiers against children, often arbitrarily and without real reason,” he said in a statement.
The booklet, which presented more than 30 anonymous testimonies of IDF soldiers serving in Gaza and the West Bank collected by the group between 2005-2011, was passed on to Bennett as well as other MKs.
Reservists on Duty initially launched last year as a counter to Breaking the Silence and has since expanded its activities to counter the BDS Movement on college campuses abroad.
“Our efforts, which started a year ago – including signing 70 MKs on a petition calling not to cooperate with Breaking the Silence and a call to ban their appearances in schools, and exposing the lies and the delegitimization the organization does to the State of Israel and IDF soldiers, and in doing so, fuels the fires of hate of BDS – bore fruit today,” he said.
Deri accused Breaking the Silence and other organizations like it for being the cause, “at the end of the day, of the decisions made and received by various UN institutions against Israel.”
On Wednesday, the Knesset Education, Culture and Sport Committee is scheduled to discuss Breaking the Silence’s activities in schools. MK Amir Ohana (Likud) initiated the meeting, saying that the organization continues its activities in schools despite Bennett’s order against it.