Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday decided not to allow members of the Breaking the Silence NGO to speak to high school students, as debate rages over the role of the group in Israeli society.
According to a statement issued by Bennett’s office, the decision was made following consultations with “senior professional staff members” at the Education Ministry and after parents of some of the students complained over the issue.
Bennett said he made the move because “those who harm IDF soldiers do not have a place in the education system.”
Breaking the Silence, which collects testimony, usually anonymous, from Israeli military veterans of alleged abuses of power from within the army, has recently come under fire, with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon calling for soldiers to stay away from the group and legislative efforts to throttle the NGO’s funding from abroad.
“We send our children to school to encourage them to learn mutual reliance, not to harm IDF soldiers. The activity of the organization besmirched Israel’s image around the world, when they made it their goal to harm their brothers, who defend us all,” said Bennett, leader of the Orthodox nationalist Jewish Home party.
Bennett instructed the ministry’s director general to update an official memorandum regulating educational procedures, a document published every year outlining the ministry’s emphases for the coming school year,to explicitly state that organizations inciting against the IDF, such as Breaking the Silence, will not be allowed entry to schools.
The decision comes after My Israel, an NGO linked to the settler movement and founded by Bennett and his party colleague Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, complained that Breaking The Silence members had been invited to lecture to students in several well-known high schools across the country.
My Israel called the invitations a “very worrying phenomenon.”
There was no immediate response from Breaking the Silence, which has collected testimony from more than 1,000 veterans who described improper or illegal behavior against Palestinians. Since the NGO was founded in 2004, it has regularly locked horns with the Israeli political and military brass which regularly denounce its activities as harming Israel’s image abroad.
Bennett’s decision comes a day after Ya’alon banned the NGO from events attended by Israeli soldiers.
Ya’alon harshly criticized the NGO, saying the group had “malicious motives.”
Ya’alon said past attempts to work with the organization to investigate and verify claims of misconduct concluded that the allegations against the military were groundless.
In response to Ya’alon’s remarks, the NGO accused the defense minister of “crossing all red lines.”
“Ya’alon has appointed himself minister of silencing and intimidation, and a member of the incitement campaign waged by extreme right-wing organizations against Israeli democracy,” Breaking the Silence said, according to Army Radio.
Last month, the Beersheba Magistrate Court issued an order prohibiting a lecture by members of Breaking the Silence scheduled to be held at a local bar from taking place, citing threats by far-right wing activists to the owners of the site.
The order was issued following a request on the matter by the Beersheba police, after information indicating that activists planned to violently break up the event in protest of the controversial group was received. Police officers said they would be unable to provide the bar with appropriate protection if violence were to break out.
The court order stated that the bar’s owners failed to arrange the appropriate security measures for the event, and added that while the venue was officially suitable for an audience of 40 guests, upwards of 250 people had confirmed they would take part in the lecture.