Ministry summons Jerusalem school principal for hosting anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence

The summons was prompted by a complaint over alleged incitement at the program, but no incitement has been found and there is no formal ministry policy banning such programming, sources say.

A principal of a Jerusalem high school was summoned by the Education Ministry after he invited members of the anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence to meet with students.

Guy Paz, principal of the Adam High School, was asked to come to the ministry after it received a complaint that the representatives of the organization engaged in incitement at the school program, sources in the Education Ministry said. Breaking the Silence was founded by Israeli army veterans to expose what they claim are Israeli abuses of Palestinians in the territories

Sources familiar with the program denied that there was any such incitement. The meeting was controversial, they acknowledged, but stated that there was no incitement or defamation of the government. Ministry officials said that an initial inquiry into the program found that the complaint over incitement was baseless and also revealed that the school had invited representatives of other groups to speak to the students to provide a range of views.

The case appears to be the first time that the ministry asked a school principal to meet to clarify such a program involving Breaking the Silence, which has come in for criticism in part for refusing to disclose the sources of its information and for exposing its findings abroad. In December 2015, when the organization was the subject of major public criticism, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the hard-right Habayit Hayehudi party, announced that he would not allow the group access to the school system.

A ministry statement at the time said Bennett had instructed the ministry’s professional staff to revise a circular to the schools to make it “clear and explicit with regard to the activity of organizations inciting against IDF soldiers, such as Breaking the Silence, in the [education] system.”

No such revision to the ministry directives has been issued, however. The ministry began looking into the matter, a source said, but after several weeks it became clear that it would imply the outlawing of Breaking the Silence. “Such a step is not within the ministry’s authority,” the source said, “so the subject has been suspended. Other than declarations, what’s important is looking into whether the balance among various [political] positions has been preserved.”

The ban declared by Bennett on Breaking the Silence, another source said, was meant primarily for political purposes.

When the prospect of the school inviting representatives of Breaking the Silence came up, it became clear that there was no formal ministry prohibition of such a program, a source said. Instead, everyone had been relying on the ministry’s press release. “With all due respect to spokesmen at the Education Ministry, they still don’t run the schools,” the source said.

The program with Breaking the Silence was held on Sunday and lasted about an hour and a half. The students who were invited to attend were from the highest-level classes at the school, which offers an anthroposophical educational approach based on the philosophies of the late Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. Students who objected to attending were excused from the program.

The Education Ministry’s Jerusalem District head Meir Shimoni held the clarification session with Paz after the organizations My Truth (HaEmet Sheli) and Reservists on Duty (Milluimnikim Bahazit) complained of the alleged incitement to one of Bennett’s aides.

One source said students were encouraged to attend and form their own impression of Breaking the Silence, but were also told that whatever decision they took about attending would be respected. “The event is part of ongoing educational discourse made up of a lot of opinions and positions. Exposing the students to a range of points of view is part of educational responsibility.”

“We got the impression rather than incitement, there was a critical discussion,” a ministry official stated. “Another no less important matter is that the school is planning a series of meetings with other organizations so the students get a varied picture. As far as is known, the [Breaking the Silence] event was to the point and respectful.”

A spokesperson for Breaking the Silence told Haaretz that “our lectures contain no incitement against Israel – they never did and never will. To recount what we did in our service in the territories and point out injustices is not incitement, rather a social obligation for the sake of the State of Israel. The ‘complaint’ lodged with the Education Ministry joins the continuing incitement against anyone who breaks the silence or objects to government policy.”

The organization said this is an attempt “to terrify teachers and principals in order to prevent high-school students from hearing the truth. While the right is engaged in spreading incitement and lies, we continue to appear in schools, colleges, youth movements and communities throughout the country, and we have no intention of stopping or shutting up.”

Education Ministry spokesman Amos Shavit declined to reply to Haaretz’ query on the issue.