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The Only Democracy? » Human Rights Activists in the Crosshairs » The Minister of Education rides again

The Minister of Education rides again

By Rela Mazali

The ongoing militarization of state (read: Jewish, non-orthodox) education in Israel has been among the major civic issues addressed by New Profile from the outset. Israel’s current minister of education, Gideon Sa’ar, provides an extremely blatant example of this ongoing process. Not hesitating in the least to openly defy democratic principles such as freedom of speech, he banned New Profile speakers from schools several months ago. This is and was part of his (pointedly headline producing) smear campaign terrorizing the young eighteen year olds legally exempted from military service, whom he systematically slanders as “shirkers”.

Now, Sa’ar is leading a witch hunt against university faculty who support international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as a means for ending occupation and oppression. This week, anticipating an upcoming discussion by the legislature of “the limits of freedom of expression in schools,” he declared his express intent “to take action against Israeli professors who call for an academic boycott of Israel.” Several prominent mainstream figures have strongly condemned this emerging policy and the minister’s preferential treatment of a political group claiming to monitor on-campus fairness while harassing left-leaning professors. Commenting on a so-called report issued by this group, the rector of Haifa University, Professor Yossi Ben-Artzi, commented that, “‘It would behoove the education minister to ignore the report which emits an aroma of McCarthyism. I hope he will understand the gravity of the very fact of monitoring and informing on lecturers, and of whether he even needs to take seriously an organization like Im Tirtzu, which causes incitement.” Sa’ar however proceeds to make up and hunt out “enemies” of the educational system, preferring the more popular role of outpost commander to that of a minister in charge of a key civil society system.

In tandem, according to columnist Avirama Golan, Knesset Member Zevulun Orlev (of “Habayit Hayehudi,” party titled The Jewish Home), is turning the Knesset Education Committee from “a committee that is supposed to oversee the government’s activities in education … into a tribunal that summons everyone whose opinions and activities it does not like and brands them with moral turpitude.” It seems that the state educational administration in Israel is already emulating the McCarthy senate hearings and “investigating” allegedly un-Israeli activities. Committee members, says Golan, “have considered firing “leftist” school principals and have lashed out at university lecturers.” An exhibition in the town of Holon marking the anniversary of the Geneva Convention and showing Israeli soldiers harming Palestinian children, was accused by Orlev of anti-Semitic incitement.

Golan suggests that,

Orlev’s McCarthyist energy is a way for him to survive at the head of Habayit Hayehudi. But it means that the Knesset committee is not dealing with matters of education but rather is branding enemies of the people.

In this process it is making no distinctions between trends and views, but rather is adopting the deceptive dichotomy … between ‘loyal’ and ‘traitor,’ and between ‘Zionist’ and ‘anti-Zionist…[he] and his colleagues on the Knesset Education Committee [… have become] the vanguard leading the crushing of Israeli democracy.”

While all this, on one level, may seem ludicrous and laughable, the subscription by both Sa’ar and Orlev to the type of hate propaganda invented and distributed by organizations clearly operating along fascist lines should not be lightly dismissed and must be taken very seriously.

Written by

Rela Mazali is an author, an independent researcher, and a feminist peace activist from Israel. Active since 1980 in efforts to end Israel’s occupation, and a founding and active member of New Profile. She was one of eight women from Israel nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize by the Swiss-based One-thousand Peacewomen project. She initiated and took part in creating the 1993 documentary "Testimonies", on Israeli soldiers' actions in the first Palestinian Intifada, and served on the Jury of Conscience at the concluding session of the World Tribunal on Iraq (2005). Maps of Women’s Goings & Stayings (Stanford University Press, 2001), her interrogation of women's spatial existence, was described by reviewers as one of the best among recent "narratives in space and time, by women about women for women", a "daring departure from the conventions of being, telling, writing, and knowing". Her recently published study, "The Gun on the Kitchen Table: The Sexist Subtext of Private Policing in Israel," (in: Farr, Myrttinen & Schnabel eds., Sexed Pistols: The Gendered Impacts of Small Arms and Light Weapons, 2009, UN Univ. Press, Tokyo) closely scrutinizes Israel's domestic 'security guard' industry.

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