‘A’ for Acquittal
Hebrew Media Review

‘A’ for Acquittal

Charges dismissed against teacher who slammed IDF; future of presidency hangs in the balance; boycott concerns grow

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Illustrative photo of an Israeli schoolroom (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of an Israeli schoolroom (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

After the civics teacher from northern Israel — who reportedly referred to the IDF as “immoral” — was let off with a warning on Thursday, the Hebrew papers wrap up the ardent public debate over the constraints on free speech in the classroom.

The future president of Israel and boycott threats receive ample coverage as well.

Israel Hayom reports that Adam Werta, a teacher at Kiryat Tivon’s Ort Greenberg high school, was firmly reprimanded for his comments. However, at the two-hour hearing, the school board ultimately decided against firing him.

While Werta issued an apology to Sapir Sabah, the student who filed the complaint, he did not retract his statements and continues to encourage teachers to voice their political views in class.

“Just as the Ministry of Education explained, meaningful learning entails teachers who express their opinions, of course while creating a pluralistic atmosphere in the classroom that respects all opinions. I want to call upon — and urge — teachers to express their opinions repeatedly without fear,” Werta said after the hearing.

The paper also features a survey amongst its readers on the subject, according to which 52.5% believe teachers have the right to express their political opinions, 43.9% oppose it, with 3.6% neutral.

Yediot Aharonoth highlights the unapologetic student Sabah and her resolve to continue to fight the ruling. “I stand behind what I did. I still think he cannot say whatever comes to mind. I am not satisfied with the decision, and I will act further. I still have classes with him, and regarding this, too, I need to think about how I will act. It doesn’t end here,” Sabah said.

An op-ed from Merav Betito applauds the school’s decision, and points to the outcry as attesting to Werta’s success as a teacher. “The spirited discussion between the teacher and student is the best proof that Werta is a worthy teacher who did his duty: He motivated his students to take action, forced them to explain [their positions], brought them to form an opinion — he taught them the true meaning of civics in real life,” Betito wrote.

Haaretz details the toll the public outcry exacted on Werta’s family. “It’s difficult,” Werta’s father said. “We received death threats against Adam and his pregnant wife. It’s not easy to stand up to this and he did so wonderfully. My feelings as a father are of great pride, on the one hand, and great concern, on the other. It’s a terrible burden and an awful stress.”

The 17-year-old who triggered the firestorm was pleased she brought the issue to the fore, according to Maariv. “On the one hand, I am sorry that, because of political considerations, they weren’t harsher on the teacher,” claimed the student. “On the other hand, I know I managed to make an impact. Teachers from the right and the left will now know that they cannot use the classes to preach their extreme positions to their students.”

Regarding the apology, Sabah told the daily: “I don’t need his apology. It’s all well and good that, an hour before the hearing, he remembered to turn to me and shake my hand.”

Maariv leads its Friday coverage with an extensive survey on the upcoming presidential elections. The paper found that some 66% of Israelis believe that the president is a necessary political figure.

But top government ministers may disagree.

According to Maariv, Minister of Economy and Trade Naftali Bennett turned to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to work to dissolve the position, and Livni responded that she would look into it.

“First, she needs to consider if she will start advancing this, and after that she would also want to consult with professional and political officials,” said representatives of Livni’s office. “It must also be checked if it’s realistic to pass a law on this scale before the upcoming elections for president. It may only be possible to do it afterwards.”

Officials from the Prime Minister’s Office indicated that Netanyahu was also assessing the possibility of cutting the position. “He certainly isn’t dismissing the idea,” they told Maariv. “It’s possible that, after Shimon Peres’s term, it really will be time to act to cancel the presidency.”

Tackling Sanctions

As the discussion of European boycotts gains traction, an internal dispute over how best to approach the increasing economic threat erupted in the Knesset, Haaretz reported. While Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz has requested a NIS 100-million budget to launch a public relations blitz in support of Israel, officials from the Defense Ministry fear that a large-scale campaign would only strengthen Israel’s opponents and called for a diplomatic approach. An official discussion will be held next week.

“In the Israeli government, there is no agreement on anything,” Yoaz Hendel wrote in an op-ed in Yediot Aharonoth on the SodaStream controversy and impending boycotts: “Not even on this critical struggle. Lapid discusses the economic dangers of boycotts; for Bennett, there is only growth. Livni makes peace, Uri Ariel oppositional prayer [rallies]. Organized policy is lacking, soda is plentiful, and at least we have one beautiful Scarlett who sides with us. That’s something.”

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