The Reali school scandal - opinion

That the Reali school goes to the trouble of dealing with the issue of human rights is something to be commended, even though it is legitimate to criticize some of the content.

EDUCATION MINISTER Yoav Gallant visits Tel Aviv in November. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SHOSHONI/FLASH90)
EDUCATION MINISTER Yoav Gallant visits Tel Aviv in November.
The attempt by Education Minister Yoav Gallant to stop the Hebrew Reali School in Haifa from letting B’Tselem director-general Hagai El-Ad speak to its students is scandalous.
The title of this article might have two opposite meanings.
The first is that the conduct of the Reali school, which invited El-Ad to lecture to around 300 students from the 12th grade on Zoom last Monday, is somehow scandalous because it took place contrary to instructions by Gallant.
The lecture was part of a series of lectures by a variety of speakers, including right-wing publicist Nave Dromi, on the topic “Military control in Judea and Samaria and protection of human rights – do the two tally?”
The second meaning of the heading, which is the one I profess, is that the attempt by Gallant to stop the school from holding the lecture, and that after the school decided to ignore the instruction (because the Education Ministry refused to provide the legal basis for it) and proceeded to hold the lecture, the headmaster of the high school, Mendi Rabinovich, and the school’s director-general, Yosi Ben-Dov, were summoned for a hearing by the ministry’s director-general, are a scandal.
The explanation for Gallant’s instruction was that schools should be forbidden to invite organizations “that act in a manner that debases the soldiers of the IDF, and term Israel an apartheid state” to speak to their students. As mentioned above, the legal basis for this is not clear.
B’Tselem is not an illegal organization. It focuses on severe breaches of human rights affecting the Palestinian population of Judea and Samaria, and deals with specific cases of breaches of such human rights, which occasionally lead to IDF personnel being investigated and even put on trial.
One well-known case was that of Sgt. Elor Azaria, who was filmed in Hebron in 2016 shooting a severely wounded Palestinian terrorist, who was lying in serious condition on the ground, and killing him. Azaria was convicted of manslaughter and inappropriate conduct, and sentenced to imprisonment.
The Palestinian photographer who filmed the event was working for B’Tselem. His video constituted a major part of the evidence against Azaria, and if it hadn’t been for this video, the whole event would probably never have reached the public’s attention, and the IDF would never have investigated it, which is what happens in numerous other similar events.
I mention the Azaria case because, on February 21, 2017, Gallant, a former major-general, who at the time was housing and construction minister, had the following to say about the Azaria affair on his Facebook account:
“The shooting affair of Elor Azaria took a high toll from the IDF and the Israeli society as a whole. It deepened existing schisms and created new and superfluous ruptures. All of Israel’s citizens, from Right and Left, were hurt from that moment in which the erroneous shooting in Hebron was performed by Elor Azaria, almost a year ago.
“Elor Azaria’s conduct was inappropriate at its very base. The future commanders of the IDF must teach the fighters about this event and emphasize its serious implications. Each and every soldier must recognize the power of the force he holds in his hands and know how to use it for his worthy and important tasks, which correspond to the moral values of the IDF.”
Fine words, which were followed by Gallant’s reasoned explanation why Azaria should be pardoned and released immediately, despite what he had done.
What he forgot to mention was the fact that B’Tselem was responsible for uncovering the horrendous event – the same B’Tselem which he believes should not be heard by 12th grade students today.
TRUE, B’TSELEM is not a paragon of virtue. I think that it should be very careful not to speak to individuals or bodies abroad that could use its criticism of Israel’s conduct (even if this criticism is based on hard facts) to try to harm and even destroy the Jewish state.
I think Hagai El-Ad should never have spoken in the UN Security Council (as he did in October 2018), which includes members that are hostile to Israel, even though he is right in saying that breaches of human rights in territories that are not part of Israel’s sovereign territory are a matter of international concern.
In addition, I believe one should avoid speaking of Israel being an apartheid state, as B’Tselem does, though I admit that I, too, occasionally fall into this pit when I am outraged by some of Israel’s actions, or the policies that some of our leaders and politicians advocate and implement. One should simply speak of Israel’s very serious breaches of the human and civil rights of the Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, and to a lesser extent of the human and civil rights of Israel’s Arab citizens. The circumstances of apartheid in South Africa were different.
WHAT I find especially disturbing is the fact that Gallant chose to attack the Reali school, which is a pluralistic school that focuses on excellence and on broad horizons, and which includes in its Beit Biram campus on Mount Carmel the IDF Junior Command Preparatory School, which it runs, whose cadets attend 10th to 12th grade scholastic classes in addition to their paramilitary training. Since its establishment this school has provided the IDF with many outstanding commanders.
That the Reali school goes to the trouble of dealing with the issue of human rights is something to be commended, even though it is legitimate to criticize some of the content.
What should worry Gallant is the fact that the overwhelming majority of schools in Israel do not provide any extra instruction on human rights, which many children and youth hold in contempt.
Why did he pounce on the Reali school? Because some right-wing students and their parents were not happy about the fact that B’Tselem was invited, and chose to complain.
Complaints of this nature that come from left-wing students and parents are usually connected to dissatisfaction with manifestations of religionization (hadata) activities by means of various religious NGOs; but under religious education ministers, such complaints do not elicit much sympathy, while as a retired general Gallant seems more concerned with protecting the IDF from criticism.
At the time of writing it is unknown how the meeting between the representatives of the Reali school and the top brass of the Education Ministry went. I believe the former deserve an apology from the latter, which they are unlikely to receive.
Just one last comment. Dromi, the right-wing publicist, published an article last Wednesday in the Hebrew daily Haaretz that bore the title: “Let Hagai El-Ad speak.”
Like Gallant, Dromi believes that what B’Tselem has to say is unworthy and even dangerous, but she believes that the way to confront it is by letting its leaders speak freely so that those listening will understand what this organization is all about.
In other words, she trusts the judgment of Israeli youngsters, even though she recognizes that there are people in Israel who sympathize with B’Tselem, and that it is their democratic right to do so.