Haaretz : Officials pressed Adam Verete to resign for expressing leftist views in class, then said he offered to quit

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By Or Kashti | Haaretz | 24 janvier 2014 |

The transcripts from a pre-dismissal hearing for a high-school teacher who allegedly expressed left-wing views in class show the administrators of the ORT network of schools pressuring him to resign and then lying about it.

The case of Adam Verete, a teacher at ORT Greenberg in Kiryat Tivon, has sparked debates in the Knesset, demonstrations featuring students with black tape over their mouths and calls on Facebook calls for Verete to be deported to Gaza and whipped.

The episode began last week, when Sapir Sabah, a 12th-grade student of Verete’s, wrote in a letter to Education Minister Shay Piron that in class Verete “explains that he’s an extreme leftist,” that “the Jews aren’t meant to be here” and “stresses that the Israel Defense Forces acts with unusual brutality and violence.” Piron told the school to investigate the matter, and last week the ORT network summoned him to a hearing.

“I am under pressure from threats on my life, and for my wife it’s 10 times worse,” Verete told ORT officials at the hearing. Since the hearing, ORT officials have denounced Verete. They said the teacher admitted at the hearing to saying in class that the Israeli army is immoral, among other statements. ORT also said that Verete had himself suggested quitting his position at the school.

But recordings of the hearing, selections from which were posted on the Haaretz Hebrew-language site on Thursday, disprove these claims. In them, Verete can be heard denying the allegations against him and refusing to resign, while officials insisted he do so. These included the head of the ORT school network, Zvi Peleg. Peleg was formerly active in the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party.

In addition, they refused to support him when he described the threats made against him since the incident began.

At the hearing, Verete denied having said Israel does not belong to the Jews, but to the Arabs. As for the IDF, he said: “The students raised the argument that the IDF is the most moral army in the world,” and they discussed what that meant.

“At the end they asked where I stood, and I said I thought the army commits immoral acts, among others.”

The administrators said at the hearing there would be “no problem” with Verete’s resignation. Verete told them he did not want to resign, citing students who called him “one of the most significant teachers they ever had.”

Verete’s students and teachers nationwide rallied to his side this week. An additional hearing is to be scheduled at a later date.

Former Knesset member Michael Ben-Ari posted Sabah’s letter on his Facebook page, with the recommendation that Verete “get on the same missile with Ms. Haneen [Zoabi] and Mr. [Ahmed] Tibi,” a reference to two Arab MKs. While many commenters defended Verete, others joined in. Comments included, “Tattoo a Star of David on his forehead and parachute him into Gaza,” “His mother screwed an Arab,” and “I would pull down this teacher’s underwear and whip him on the ass …”

At the hearing, Verete defended his teaching methods, saying his aim “is to be open with the students, not for the sake of persuading them, nor for the sake of influencing them, but simply for the sake of sincerity.”

“There’s an Education Ministry directive not to express opinions,” ORT deputy director of human resources Merav Atari said at the hearing.

The ministry has in fact not issued such a directive. The ministry has adopted the Kremnitzer report, which says a teacher may take a stand on a controversial issue, as long as he doesn’t present his position as obligatory.

“A teacher is prohibited from expressing opinions,” Arari repeated. “And you acted contrary to the procedure.” Later in the hearing she said: “A teacher in a school that encourages students [to join the army] cannot express views opposed to the school spirit.”

Verete told the administrators the frictions with Sabah began last school year, when he laughed after Sabah said “We must throw all the Arabs into the sea.” At a later meeting with the principal he apologized for laughing.

A few months later, Verete related, Sabah announced, “Israel has a death penalty for traitors, then she said to me, ‘You’re a traitor,’” Verete said at the hearing.

“Didn’t you apologize?” one of the administrators asked Verete.

“For what?” Verete asked.

Toward the end of the hearing Atari said, “I want to suggest: I won’t dismiss you, but you will resign and say you don’t want to continue working.”

Verete protested, “but it’s not true,” but Atari continued: “I think that’s the highway to solve your problem and the entire system’s problem.”

ORT declined to comment.

High-school teacher faces dismissal for expressing leftist views in class

In letter to education minister, student alleges that a teacher disparaged the State of Israel and the army.

By Or Kashti | Haaretz | 20.01.2014 |

An Israeli high-school teacher is facing possible dismissal after a student complained, in a letter to Education Minister Shay Piron, that he expressed “extreme leftist views” and “spoke against our state” in class.

The ORT school network held a pre-dismissal hearing last week for Adam Verete, who teaches at ORT Greenberg in Kiryat Tivon. The letter was written by Sapir Sabah, who is in 12th grade at the school.

Former Knesset Member Michael Ben Ari posted Sabah’s letter on his Facebook page, eliciting numerous comments and even accusations of treason against Verete. Last week Verete filed a police complaint of slander, threats and incitement.

Sabah’s mother, Nurit Sabah, said on Saturday the family was waiting to see “whether justice will be done.”

Verete reportedly told several colleagues at the school that he had considered resigning, but “particularly since I’m a homeroom teacher I don’t have the privilege of not fighting for my opinions.”

After last week’s hearing Verete told friends that ORT claimed he had violated Education Ministry regulations. He said he had tried to explain that while teachers were barred from recommending a particular party in an election or expressing one-sided, manipulative support for a particular position, they were not prohibited from helping students to think critically. Verete told his friends that at the hearing, the ORT officials had said the best solution for all concerned would be to quit.

In a response, ORT said it held a hearing for Verete as soon as it learned of the incident, adding that its schools promote values-based education and its teachers educate its pupils to serve in the IDF. “If and to the extent the statements [attributed to Verete with regard to the IDF] were said, they contradict the school network’s values and do not in any way reflect its position. Beyond that, for reasons of privacy, we cannot address the matter until the clarification process is completed.”

In the past few years a number of teachers, particularly of subjects such as history and civics, have complained that it is increasingly difficult to discuss controversial issues in class, such as human rights in general and the rights of Israeli Arabs in particular, as well as the conduct of the Israel Defense Forces. Teachers say students often express themselves in a manner that borders on violent when it comes to such subjects. Saying the Education Ministry does not support them, many teachers prefer to avoid addressing “sensitive issues.”

In August 2012 the Education Ministry’s coordinator of civics studies, Adar Cohen, was fired after trying to introduce a broader range of voices into the school curriculum. At least two Tel Aviv high principals, Ram Cohen and Zeev Degani, have faced disciplinary action for expressing opposition to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

In her letter to Piron about Verete Sabah wrote: “Adam [Verete] makes sure to stress his political views in every class. He explains that he’s an extreme leftist, and from his perspective our state does not belong to the Jews, but to the Palestinians, and that we, the Jews, aren’t meant to be here.”

She complained that Verete “stresses that the IDF acts with unusual brutality and violence” and told of attending a conference abroad in which he’d shouted, “Viva Palestine.” When she objected, “he laughed, and said, ‘As far as you’re concerned killing all the Arabs is what you want.’”

Sabah told classmates about an incident last year when Verete allegedly laughed at her defense of the statement, “All the Arabs should be thrown into the sea.” She complained that he humiliated her and he was forced to apologize. Several months later Sabah told Verete that treason is punishable by death in Israel. The principal demanded that she apologize, but she refused.

On Ben Ari’s Facebook page, there were numerous comments demanding that Verete be fired, or worse. “Sapir, dear, tell your ‘homeroom teacher’ that he’s invited to get on the same missile with Ms. Haneen [Zoabi] and Mr. [Ahmed] Tibi,” a reference to two Arab MKs.

There were also supportive posts from current and former students of Verete. “I never felt even for a moment in any class that he was imposing his view [but] that he was trying to wake the class up,” wrote one student, adding, “He succeeds in developing students’ critical and independent thinking, and doesn’t encourage incitement.”

Another student wrote that she considered Sabah’s letter to be “totally divorced from reality. [Verete] is an exceptional teacher who encourages open discussion in class and without a doubt allows every student to express his views, however extreme.”

Sabah responded to Verete’s supporters by writing, “It’s a shame that there are people in this country like you!!! You’re coming out against the state and betraying it!!!”