Bennett moves to block anti-Israel groups from public schools

Education Minister Naftali Bennett is pushing legislation to outlaw the use of taxpayer-funded public schools by “organizations which operate in Israel against IDF soldiers.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the Bayit Yehudi party, together with Members of Knesset and party members Shuli Moalem-Refaeli and Bezalel Smotrich, are planning to tighten a regulation preventing “organizations which operate in Israel against IDF soldiers” from gaining access to Israel’s taxpayer-funded schools.

The action became necessary when it was revealed that an official memorandum issued at the end of 2015, as part of a yearly outline of the Education Ministry’s objectives, did not prevent such school visits. The 2015 memorandum was updated from previous memoranda to explicitly bar organizations that incite against the IDF from entering the nation’s public schools.

Though the memorandum was not legally binding, it was hoped that school principals would abide by it. In just the past month, though, three high school principals allowed members of Breaking the Silence (BtS) to present negative portrayals of the IDF to their students. The principals were admonished by the Education Ministry, but will not face disciplinary action due to the non-binding nature of last year’s memorandum.

Bennett’s new proposal seeks to prevent BtS and similar organizations from gaining further access to Israel’s students on the taxpayer’s dime by making it a criminal act to violate the Education Ministry’s memorandum.

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Breaking the Silence

BtS gained notoriety after the 2008-09 Gaza War when it pushed for the prosecution of Israeli officials and soldiers for what it considered to be too strong of a response to rocket fire from Gaza into Israeli communities. The group faced heavy criticism for accepting foreign funds, which were conditioned on BtS obtaining a minimum quota of incriminating “testimonies” against the Israeli army from former soldiers.

A document obtained by NGO Monitor from the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits showed quota demands for incriminating testimony came from the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, ICCO (primarily funded by the Dutch government), and Oxfam Great Britain (funded by the British government).

Many Israelis came to view the group as an anti-Israel organization run by activists plotting to defame IDF soldiers by planning to submit a pre-selected number of one-sided testimonies against the IDF, rather than simply reporting all testimonies they obtained regardless of which side they supported.  The use of anonymous testimonies furthered the backlash against the group, and even the left-wing daily Haaretz carried an article from Amos Harel claiming that, “Breaking the Silence…has a clear political agenda, and can no longer be classified as a ‘human rights organization.’”

Mualem said, “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,” according to a report in the Jerusalem Post.

Wide Support in Knesset

The bill looks set for passage after garnering the support of opposition Knesset members, including Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid. Other coalition members supporting the measure include Knesset Members Oded Forer (Yisrael Beiteinu), Yoav Kish (Likud) and  Meirav Ben-Ari (Kulanu).

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“It cannot be that the educational system of the State of Israel allows the entry of organizations which slander the officers and soldiers of the IDF, call them criminals and encourage the refusal to carry out orders,” Lapid stated. “Think what happens to a student who hears these stories the moment before he is drafted into the IDF. What does it do to his motivation and his willingness to contribute?”

The first reading of the proposed law is expected to take place next week.

“Organizations that go around the world harming IDF soldiers will not go into schools,” Bennett promised.

BtS responded to the proposal with a statement claiming that Bennett will not be able to destroy “democratic values on the altar of the settlement enterprise.”

By: Eli Stein, World Israel News