The Knesset’s Education, Culture and Sports Committee last week met to debate allowing Breaking the Silence group into Israeli public schools, following petitions filed by MKs Amir Ohana (Likud) and Oded Forer (Yisrael Beitenu).
The meeting was called after Breaking the Silence representatives had been invited to give lectures in schools, and against the background of a bill which is being drafted by Education Minister Naftali Bennett to prohibit the appearance of the organization’s representatives in front of children in educational institutions.
As right- and left-wing MKs argued over whether to prohibit the activity of Breaking the Silence in schools, six MKs were ejected from the stormy debate, during which MK Ohana said Breaking the Silence “is at the top of the industry of lies against the State of Israel.”
MK Zehava Galon (Meretz) said Breaking the Silence is a “patriotic organization” and that those who object to it want a “paranoid education system that does not deal with criticism.”
Breaking the Silence did not send representatives to the meeting, and the two school principals who invited the organization’s representatives to appear in front of their students were absent as well.
According to its website, Breaking the Silence “is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. We endeavor to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population on a daily basis, and are engaged in the control of that population’s everyday life. Our work aims to bring an end to the occupation.”
MK Oren Hazan (Likud) called Galon a “traitor” and she replied, “You are a pimp [as confirmed by the] court.”
“Our children fight no less and are killed no less than you,” Galon added. “Whoever reveals improper conduct should be respected. You are a group of cowards and hypocrites, that’s what you are.”
“Breaking the Silence does so in order to present the IDF soldiers as soldiers who systematically abuse locals,” Ohana said, adding “this poison against the soldiers and the State of Israel which is created by Breaking the Silence should be stopped, and we must say ‘not in our schools.'”
According to MK Forer, the organization has crossed the line. “It slanders Israel in the world, takes a fragment of [an event] and turns it into a whole story. The organization should be unequivocally taken out of the schools and the academia’s walls,” he said.
MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) asked, “Who slanders Israel in the world more than [Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett’s people, who argue among themselves over who has a bigger flag? When I have to reply to the question of who do I trust more, Naftali Bennett or [Tel Aviv school principal] Ram Cohen – I unequivocally trust Ram Cohen more.”
Cohen was recently reprimanded by the Education Ministry after inviting Breaking the Silence to address his students.
“Breaking the Silence is more Zionist and patriotic than anyone here,” Gilon continued. “The hypocrites are the most repulsive. They are the ones who, just like a hyena, jump on a corpse. I will not tell you that I refer to (Yesh Atid Chairman MK) Yair Lapid; you will understand that on your own.”
MK Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu) called on the Ministry of Education to invite organizations “which present the IDF as it is – a moral army,” to appear in schools. She also urged Breaking the Silence to “stop disrespecting the Knesset” and attend discussions which its representatives are invited to.
Amit Deri, head of the Reservists on Duty organization, said that Ram Cohen refuses to allow representatives of IDF reservists to give lectures to his students. “We have been to every school which Breaking the Silence lectured in, we arrived immediately afterwards. This organization encourages insubordination de facto.”
Shai-El Nachmani from the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium high school told the committee that he was present at a Breaking the Silence lecture and the message he received was that students must not enlist in the army. Committee Chairman MK Yakov Margi asked whether the Breaking the Silence representative explicitly said to not enlist. “They did not clearly say it, but that’s what I concluded,” Nachmani replied.
According to “Im Tirtzu” director Matan Peleg, “The main issue with Breaking the Silence’s activity is that they blame the entire Israeli society for war crimes. I want to take every soldier who has committed a crime and put him in jail, but this organization blames the entire State of Israel for war crimes. You tell me: how is this educational, and why should we bring them to [our] schools?”
Avichai Shorshan, one of the founders of “My Truth,” added, “Breaking the Silence takes extreme events which do not reflect everyone and disseminate them all around the world as if this is the face of the IDF. Hamas uses materials from Breaking the Silence in order to operate against us in international institutions. Is it appropriate for this organization to meet our children?”
MK Yehuda Glick (Likud) said that since “Breaking the Silence declares that it is against the occupation, it means that it holds a political position – which should be prohibited in schools.” Schools, according to Glick, “must only host pluralist organizations.”
MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint Arab List) said, “This is another campaign of silencing which is not only aimed towards Breaking the Silence, but also against human rights organizations. He added, “This is an attempt of silencing the main issue of occupation. It is becoming clear that the State of Israel is not democratic even for Jews themselves, when it silences other’s opinions.”
MK Dov Khenin (Joint Arab List) read aloud Natan Alterman’s poem “Al Zot” (For This), and noted that in 1948 David Ben-Gurion requested to print out the poem and hand it out to all IDF soldiers. “Today there is one school principal who still has the courage to bring out this voice and he is immediately summoned to a field court martial. We are not only talking about Breaking the Silence. We are talking about the moral image of our society,” Khenin said.
MK Haim Jelin (Yesh Atid) told the committee that he grew up in a dictatorship and each time someone is called a traitor his heart tears apart. “When Bedouins were killed during Operation Protective Edge, the mayor of Dimona was the first one to offer his condolences, not the MKs who are here shouting. I am sad because I don’t see how it is possible to mend the rift.”
MK Michal Rozin (Meretz) said that she educates children to join the army and contribute as much as they can, but at the same time educates them to be aware of all opinions, ask questions and criticize.
“The only system where this still somehow exists is in the public education system, and now the Minister of Education wants to take it away. In the state religious education system there is no place for asking questions and criticizing,” said Rozin. The discussion, she said, exists only in the secular public education sector, “because the rest are blocked from pluralism.”