Haifa teacher slams student as ‘radical, intolerant’ for judicial reform support

Left-wing teacher plays victim after writing condescending letter to graduating student, framing his support for judicial reform as troubling and claiming that he doesn’t support Israeli democracy.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

A high school civics teacher opposed to potential reforms to Israel’s judicial system wrote a letter to a student upon his graduation, revealing her deep biases against the legislation and expressing her “concern” for the pupil due to his support for the measure.

Muscat Mendelson, who graduated from Leo Baeck High School in Haifa earlier in June, is in favor of reforms to the Israeli legal system, and has made his views clear during discussions and debates in his civics class.

But his former teacher, Orly Picker, framed Mendelson’s support for the reforms, along with his admiration for the right-wing think-tank Kohelet Forum, as “radical and intolerant.”

‘I have had some question marks about you’

“In the last few months, I have had some question marks about you,” Picker wrote to Mendelson in a letter, which he distributed to Hebrew-language media.

Mendelson’s “adherence to the policies of the Kohelet Forum, the serious consideration of the false propaganda on [right-wing news station] Channel 14, the extreme positions you began to voice, the completely unfounded criticism of the Supreme Court and of the retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Prof. Aharon Barak, deeply disappoint me,” Picker wrote.

“I find it difficult to accept your adoption of radical and intolerant positions. I so hope that you will delve into the facts and that you will distance yourself from the intolerant positions you have recently adopted,” she added.

After receiving the letter in the mail alongside his high school diploma, Mendelson contacted his high school principal. The principal spoke with Picker, and she sent him a revised letter “that was even worse,” in Mendelson’s view.

In the new letter, Picker wrote that Mendelson was “critical of Israeli democracy,” implying that he does not support it, and that he supports “a legal revolution.”

Speaking to Hebrew-language media, Picker presented herself as a victim and said she had apologized to Mendelson.

In her statement, she did not acknowledge that framing a student’s views on the legal reform – which are shared by a substantial portion of voters in the country – as “intolerant and radical” was inherently inappropriate.

“The rest of the letter is full of compliments that the student certainly deserves,” Picker told Ynet. “It is not clear to me why, after a week, he chose to contact the media…Unfortunately, I understand that he wanted to hurt me.”

Picker claimed that she had received support from “hundreds of my past and present students, who [praise] my respectful and tolerant approach. I will continue to adhere to my all-important educational mission.”

‘Fascist spirit’

Communications Minister Galit Distel-Atbaryan (Likud) said she does not believe that Picker should be allowed to continue in her current position.

“She should have received a dismissal letter from the Education Ministry today,” Distel-Atbaryan said in a media statement.

“She insulted the student in order to break his spirit…implying in her ‘abuse letter’ that his ‘mental state is worrying.’ She is a bully.

“Anyone who exhibits a fascist spirit cannot be a teacher for citizenship in democratic Israel. She is shallower than her student,” Distel-Atbaryan added.

The Ministry of Education shirked responsibility for the incident, saying that Picker had written the letter outside of school hours and not within her role as a teacher, nor on behalf of a school. Picker was given a stern talking-to by the principal, the Ministry claimed, and did not elaborate on any further disciplinary action.