The offices of the Breaking the Silence organization in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted unanimously on Sunday to provide government backing to legislation to bar the left-wing NGO Breaking the Silence from schools.
The measure would allow the education minister, “as the head of the system and the person responsible for the Israeli students,” to ban specific individuals or organizations that are not a part of the education system from performing activities inside schools, when the activities “undermine the educational goals or harm IDF soldiers,” according to a ministerial memorandum.
“Whoever is going around the world aiming to harm the IDF’s soldiers at the UN, in South Africa and in Europe, will not be able enter schools in Israel... I expect full support from all cabinet ministers,” said Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi), who initiated the legislation.
Breaking the Silence CEO Yuli Novak said ahead of the vote that the bill only benefits her organization.
“Bennett’s obsession with Breaking the Silence only makes us stronger. While he tries to silence us, more and more youth hear about the occupation."
“It is sad and pathetic that [Yesh Atid chairman] Yair Lapid supports the bill. He became a tool for the ‘Smotrichs’ and the ‘Yogevs,’” Novak said, referencing two Bayit Yehudi MKs. “Although he gets a photo in the paper with Bennett, they get more legitimacy for occupying and ruining the democracy.”
The bill, submitted by Bayit Yehudi MKs Shuli Moalem-Refaeli and Bezalel Smotrich, and signed by lawmakers from coalition and opposition parties, would add “encouraging significant service in the IDF and protecting the status and honor of the IDF” to the goals of public education as listed in the law.
“I praise the passing of the bill,” said Moalem-Refaeli. “Education was meant to build and empower the state and the society, but the acts of NGOs such as Breaking the Silence are doing just the opposite. It’s about time that the reality in which elements that are undermining the state and working against it in classroom will end.”
Lapid expressed support for the bill.
“We cannot allow organizations that encourage draft-dodging and call the IDF officers and soldiers criminals inside the Israeli education system.
“Those kind of organizations harm soldiers, putting them in danger of facing a trial and slamming Israel among the international community by spreading blatant lies,” he said.
Dozens of mayors and heads of local authorities signed a petition ahead of the vote pledging to prevent Breaking the Silence from speaking in their schools.
The petition was spearheaded by the anti-BDS group Reservists on Duty, which was established by IDF reservists as a counter to Breaking the Silence.
“We are in favor of freedom of speech and expression of opinion, but we will not provide a stage for wild incitement, for slander and lies,” the petition states. “Since its establishment, Breaking the Silence has played a large and active role in fueling the hatred against Israel, boosted the BDS movement, encouraged insubordination among youth and engaged tirelessly in empowering the delegitimization of the IDF and of the State of Israel.”
In December 2015, Bennett banned the NGO from the education system, for disseminating “lies and propaganda against the IDF.” Despite this directive, some principals were not deterred from inviting representatives of the group to speak at their schools.
Last month, three high school principals invited the group to speak to teachers and students.
As a result, the Education Ministry released a memorandum in an attempt to refine the guidelines with regards to school discussions on controversial issues and unequivocally ban Breaking the Silence from appearing.
However, the updated memorandum was insufficient deterrence, as it failed to clarify the penalty for violating the directive. Meanwhile, the principals in question have been summoned to the Education Ministry for a hearing.
The current bill is meant to anchor in law Bennett’s original directive and to ensure that the NGO, as well as others like it, is banned from the education system.