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ACRI Appeals Ministry of Education Banning Specific Organizations from Speaking at Schools

Illustration. Photo by Emily Schneider, ACRI

Yesterday, in light of an upcoming Human Rights conference at the Haifa Reali School, Education Minister Yoav Galant issued an order banning schools from hosting organizations that “contradict the goals of the education system” – specifically organizations that refer to Israel as an apartheid state - from speaking to students. This is not the first time a Minister of Education puts out a directive to rescind invitations for human rights organizations from speaking at schools. We saw the same tactic from former Minister of Education Naftali Bennet, who banned the Ministry of Education from participating in ACRI’s annual International Human Rights Education Conference due to false claims about the nature of ACRI’s work.

It should be noted, such directives are given without authority and are always vague, in fact they rarely even name the organizations outright. This is because there is no legal basis for denying groups like B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, or any other human rights or social change group from being invited to speak at schools. The reality is the exact opposite: the Israeli Education Law objectives include instilling values of human rights, democracy, and tolerance, the strengthening of judgement and critical thinking, and the cultivation of intellectual curiosity and independent thought in students.

Following the Education Minister’s directive, the Haifa District Director of the Ministry of Education ordered the Haifa Reali School to cancel a human rights conference scheduled for the following day, at which B’tselem director Hagai El-Ad was to speak. The principal did not respond to the directive, and was told he would be summoned to a hearing.

In response, ACRI appealed to the Haifa District Director and the Ministry of Education, requesting that he retract his actions. ACRI’s Legal Department Director, Atty. Oded Feller, and Director of ACRI’s Human Rights Education Department, Atty. Naomi Beyth, highlighted the Education Law objectives as justification for giving schools the freedom to hold pluralistic and critical discussions on controversial issues, calling on the Ministry of Education to support educators throughout the process, including those who receive complaints by persons with differing views.

The appeal further notes that the 2018 amendment to the Education Law, which stipulated that the Minister of Education may establish rules to prevent the invitation of organizations operating in significant and serious conflict of the purposes of education, does not apply to human rights and social change groups. What’s more, neither have such rules been established, nor do the organizations Minster Galant vaguely described contradict the goals of Israel’s education, but rather play an important role of active civic participation in the democratic process.

"Time and time again, directives lacking legal standing are issued by officials in the Ministry of Education to rescind invitations from human rights and social change organizations to schools," the appeal states. "Time and time again, the directives are exposed as illegal and fall to the wayside. However, the educational damage is done. These guidelines, accompanied by media outcry and baseless threats against principals in hearings and inquiries, are intended solely to create an atmosphere of terror and to induce a chilling effect and self-censorship on schools [...] all of which may produce generations of disinterested, non-involved students, walking in a very particular line sketched by education system leaders and officials for improper political reasons, which have nothing to do with quality education."

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