Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday ordered a conference on human rights be canceled, accusing a participating civil rights group of aiding terrorists and working to delegitimize Israel.
In response, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel denied the accusation and asked Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to intervene and override Bennett’s instructions to abort the event.
The ministry-sponsored conference, scheduled for Wednesday, was intended to provide teachers with information about their rights ahead of International Human Rights Day, marked on December 10.
ACRI, which defends civil liberties regardless of political affiliation and has worked for decades with the Education Ministry on other projects, was one the groups slated to present at the summit.
ACRI said it only heard about the cancellation from a press release issued by the right-wing Im Tirtzu organization, the Hebrew media Ynet website reported.
In its appeal to Mandelblit, ACRI wrote that “This instruction from Minister Bennett is another link in the chain of delegitimization of civil society organizations by senior figures in the government.”
According to Im Tirtzu, Bennett was convinced to cancel the event by a petition from 45 relatives of terror victims, who accused the group of defending terrorists.
“ACRI is a radical delegitimization organization that, among its various anti-Israel activities, fights against us, the bereaved families, in a direct way by defending terrorists who murdered our children, parents, brothers, husbands and wives,” the families wrote, according to an English translation posted by Im Tirtzu.
Bennett, the leader of the nationalist Jewish Home party, made it clear it was ACRI’s alleged work with terrorists that prompted him to cancel the conference, in a response also published by Im Tirtzu.
“After information was brought to my attention that [ACRI] consistently works to defend terrorists who murdered Israelis, I instructed the Ministry of Education to cancel its participation in the activity that was supposed to take place with this organization,” the minister wrote. “The Education Ministry will not cooperate with organizations that harm IDF soldiers or defend our enemies.”
Bennett also ordered Education Ministry director-general Shmuel Abuhav to review the ministry’s future relationship with ACRI.
A ministry source said that if ACRI is found to have helped terrorists the ministry will permanently severe its ties with the group.
ACRI told Haaretz that it doesn’t assist terror suspects during their trials and that the cases brought up in the letter were all to do with prisoner rights and cases where the state sought to cancel the citizenship of the terrorists after their convictions, such as that of Alaa Raed Ahmad Zayoud.
Zayoud, an Israeli citizen from the Arab Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm, was convicted of carrying out a combined stabbing and car-ramming attack that seriously injured an IDF soldier as well as three others last year.
He was sentenced to 25 years in prison in June last year but in August 2017 the Haifa Magistrate’s Court also revoked his citizenship.
At the time ACRI said it would appeal against the decision, a fact which the relatives cited in their letter.
Im Tirtzu has gained notoriety over the past several years for posting ads accusing prominent left-wing activists of being foreign “moles” in Israel and supporters of terror.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.