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How I was summoned to the Knesset

By       Message Ram Cohen     Permalink
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On Monday, June 21, I am to appear before the Knesset Education
Committee and the Minister of Education, Mr. Gideon Saar, following my
unequivocal words to my students, condemning the 43-year-old occupation
and rule over the life of the Palestinian people.

A school
principal should have a clear and unequivocal moral position about any
subject and issue on the agenda of Israeli society. A principal is not
an educational clerk. A principal must have, for example, something to
say about the deportation of the children of migrant workers,
trafficking in women, the separation fence, the withdrawal from Gaza,
minimum wage law, settlers attacking Palestinian villagers to exact a "price tag," the removal of Arabs from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, the
siege on Gaza, corruption in government, or the relations of religion
and state.

It is the duty of a school principal to take a stand
and to defend it if necessary. A principal cannot rest, content with
nodding and mumbling when students ask questions about the conflicts in
Israeli society. The one who gives evasive answers is a hollow person,
not worthy of being called an educator. Being an educator means to
uphold a set of universal and national values which deserve to be part
of the state's symbols.

Being at the storm center of
controversy, I was recently obliged to introduce for discussion at our
school a spectrum of opinion for and against our presence in the
Occupied Territories, and I must admit that this was very difficult for
me. When I believe that our country does not respect International Law
and its own laws, nor does it have proper regard for human rights -- I
frankly find it hard to admit into the school representatives of views
which support the status quo. Since the expulsion from Paradise it is
our duty to distinguish right from wrong. It is my duty to point out the
wrong, and to strongly condemn it.

Those who demand that I
prepare students for recruitment should know that my duty is also to
tell them that they would enter a territory which was occupied 43 years
ago, in which human rights are being shamefully violated on a daily
basis by means of our military superiority. In the future, these children
will have to account for themselves, and they will ask if their school
has revealed to them the terrible secret called occupation. Yes,
occupation. An occupation, not a liberation, not a return to an
ancestral land. Not even a return to dry water holes which have been
re-filled with tears. *

In the school which I run, there is
no entry to proponents of the racist Kahane ideology. There is no place
for people who advocate the use of drugs for relieving stress, for
rabbis who argue that discrimination of Sephardi girls is justified due
to the internal codes of their religious community, for those who
promote a multiculturalism which includes female genital mutilation -- nor for those who justify the discrimination against Arab residents of
this country or the "encouraging" of them to emigrate.

Wherever
there is a conflict, any decision will be a political decision. When I
decided seven years ago that this school would teach Arabic rather than
French, that was a political decision. The same when I decided that
school hikes will not include the "City of David" settlers.**

On
the other hand, school principals who let their students go to a
protest against the withdrawal from Gaza and who present it as the
deportation of Jews from their land are performing a political act. To
talk to students about a holy duty of settling Jews from the sea to the
Jordan River, on the basis of a Divine promise, is a political act.
Expressing opposition or support to the release of hundreds of
Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilead Shalit -- what is that if
not taking a political stand?
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So what are the limits of freedom
of expression at school? My answer is: everything is permitted, provided
that it does not contradict such basic values as democracy, universalism
and humanism, as well as observing the laws of the State of Israel
which should conform to the norms of the Family of Nations.

I
cannot end this statement without noting that this Knesset debate would
probably not have taken place had Professor Yuli Tamir still been
Minister of Education and Haim Oron Still headed the Education
Committee. ***

The obvious conclusion is that free speech in the schools
is not determined solely by the innocuous expedient of "examining the
boundaries." Rather, it varies according to the political perceptions of
those who at the moment occupy the top positions in the educational
system, the Knesset and the government.

Ram Cohen is an
educator and principal of the Aleph High School in Tel Aviv.

*
This is a reference to the song "Jerusalem of Gold," embodying the
nationalist euphoria of 1967, which includes the words "We have come
back to the waterholes."
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** The settlers in the group known as "Elad"
have established themselves at Silwan Village, directly south of the Old
City of Jerusalem, where they claim King David had his palace 3000
years ago, with the proclaimed aim of "Judaising" it. They have expelled
Palestinian residents from several homes and took them over, and the "archeological" diggings conducted by settlers undermine the foundations
of many other houses. The "National Park" maintained by the settlers is
recommended by the Ministry of Education as a venue for school hikes.

***
Yuli Tamir and Haim Oron, of respectively the Labor Party and the
Left-Zionist Meretz Party, held the positions mentioned until the
accession of Binyamin Netanyahu to power.

 

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Ram Cohen is an educator and principal of the Aleph High School in Tel Aviv.

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How I was summoned to the Knesset