Knesset spars over ousting left-wing NGO from schools

MK Gilon: "Breaking the Silence is more Zionist than all the people here."

December 29, 2016 02:05
4 minute read.
Israel Knesset

MKs at the Knesset. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Breaking the Silence stands at the head of the industry of lies against the State of Israel, MK Amir Ohana (Likud) said at a Knesset Education, Sports and Culture Committee meeting on Wednesday.

Ohana made these remarks in a very heated discussion, which he initiated together with MK Oded Forer on the activity of NGO Breaking the Silence, which provides in schools anonymous testimonies of soldiers that describe alleged IDF transgressions.

“Breaking the Silence does this in an attempt to present IDF soldiers as vicious [and] who systematically abuse the locals,” he said. “This poison against IDF soldiers and the State of Israel that Breaking the Silence creates, we must stop and say: ‘Not in our schools.’” MKs from the Right and the Left sparred over whether the group should be allowed to speak in schools, as six MKs were removed from the meeting for disruptive behavior.

Forer addressed the committee and said that the group slanders Israel to the world all while receiving funding from foreign governments.

“The organization was caught collecting classified materials and information on IDF activity and we must not give them the right to educate our children,” he said.

Forer noted that over a year ago he appealed to Education Minister Naftali Bennett and called on him to remove the group from schools, “though nothing was done on the issue,” he said.

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 school.

In the past month, three high school principals invited the group to speak to teachers and students, defying the directive.

On Tuesday, Bennett gave his support for new legislation that would ban organizations that testify against Israel in international forums from schools.

The bill was submitted by MKs Shuli Moalem-Refaeli and Bezalel Smotrich from Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi party.

Meretz MK Ilan Gilon responded to the criticism against the group and lashed out at right-wing politicians.

He slammed the education minister and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as being the ones who slander Israel to the world and said they were “competing over who has the bigger flag.”

“Breaking the Silence is more Zionist than all the people here,” he said.

“The hypocrites are the most repulsive,” he said, referring to Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid who threw his support behind the bill.

Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On also called Breaking the Silence “patriotic” and accused those calling for its removal for promoting “a paranoid education system that doesn’t deal with criticism.”

“We want groups in schools who are pluralistic and not groups justifying the occupation,” she said.

The committee also heard testimony from NGOs calling for the removal of Breaking the Silence from schools.

Amit Deri, founder and chairman of Reservists on Duty, an anti-BDS organization, said “We were in every school that Breaking the Silence lectured in, we came immediately after.”

Deri came to the meeting together with two twelfth grade students from the Herzliya Gymnasium School in Tel Aviv who recounted Breaking the Silence’s lecture.

“They didn’t act objectively, they gave us a one sided version and the bottom line and the message that I took away was: Don’t enlist in the IDF,” one of the students told the committee.

When asked if the students were explicitly told not to enlist, the student said, “they didn’t say it straight out, but you could infer, I inferred this from their speech, they said this is not the army that you want to enlist in.”

Avichai Shorshan, from Haemet Sheli (My Truth) said that the UN and even Hamas quote Breaking the Silence in their criticism against Israel.

“A murderous organization like Hamas that wants the eradication of Israel... is using Breaking the Silence materials,” he said.

Matan Peleg, CEO of rightwing NGO Im Tirtzu told the committee that the organization accuses not only the IDF, but “all of Israeli society of war crimes.”

“This is a dangerous propaganda organization that has no connection to education.

Lies are not educational, especially when they are funded by foreign governments,” he said.

Committee chairman Yaakov Margi noted that the group itself was not present for the discussion, though it had been invited. He read a “cynical” response from Breaking the Silence, which stated: “Unfortunately we cannot attend [the Knesset discussion] because we are busy with our activities with youth.”

The discussion concluded without reaching any conclusions though Margi said the committee would reconvene soon to discuss the issue more in depth.

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.

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