The coalition is looking to pass a controversial bill that will enable the Shin Bet security service to perform background checks on all 200,000 of the country’s teachers to confirm they have no ties to terrorism.
The legislation was passed through a preliminary vote in May and discussed last week in the Education Ministry, with the coalition planning on passing it in the upcoming parliamentary session that starts next month.
Rights groups and other opponents are pushing back against the bill, citing privacy concerns and arguing it targets Arab teachers and will have a chilling effect.
Likud MK Amit Halevi — who is co-sponsoring the bill alongside MK Zvika Fogel from the far-right Otzma Yehudit party — told Calcalist that the bill “will fundamentally change the educational infrastructure that breeds terrorism.”
The bill would facilitate and accelerate the dismissal process of teachers who are flagged in a background check. A similar vetting process by the Shin Bet used to be in force in the past, specifically for Arab educators, until it was abolished in 2009.
The bill is scheduled to be presented to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation once the Knesset resumes its activities. It is being pushed despite the categorical opposition of the security agency, which considers the checks unnecessary.
At a hearing in the Knesset’s Education Committee on July 4, a representative from the Prime Minister’s Office, speaking on behalf of the Shin Bet, said that the security agency “does not consider teachers a threat group and therefore does not subject them to comprehensive checks.” If there are educators with ties to terrorism, the Shin Bet will identify them and inform the Education Ministry, the representative said, asserting that there was no need for an additional blanket process.
Tal Hasin, a lawyer for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, told Calcalist that “the existing legislative framework already provides the necessary safeguards against incitement of terrorism,” and that the Education Ministry has no authority to transfer the personal details of 200,000 teachers to the Shin Bet, thereby infringing on their privacy and freedom of expression.
For decades, the Shin Bet performed background checks on Arab teachers until they were halted in 2009. Right-wing politicians have made repeated attempts to bring them back because some 1,500 of them underwent training in West Bank universities and academies not certified by Israel.
However, there does not seem to be any evidence of a concrete threat to national security posed by those educators that would justify the intervention of the anti-terror agency.
“The [new] law does not state it explicitly, but it clearly implies that Arab teachers are enemies of the State unless proven otherwise,” said Kholod Idres, co-director of the Shared Society Department at Sikkuy-Aufoq, a shared Jewish and Arab nonprofit advancing social equality.
“The proposed bill is part of a decade-long effort to intimidate and subjugate Arab teachers who are just trying to do their job in accordance with the guidelines of the Education Ministry and educate students on the values of democracy,” Idres said.
“It is part of a process to suppress teachers’ freedom of expression that is now about to be enshrined into law. Educators know that if they speak out against human rights violations, they may lose their job, or not get one in the first place,” she added. “The Shin Bet should not be involved in civilian affairs.
“The Arab education system is still under the influence of the time when it was under Shin Bet oversight,” Idres said. “Even young teachers who started working without those constraints are still afraid to speak out against the government due to fears of losing their source of income.”
“Even teaching about Arab culture is [considered] problematic. Curricula completely ignore the Arab presence in Israel,” she added. “They are drawn up with a view to promoting a process of ‘Israelization’ of Arab society, disregarding its specificities. But Arab educators need to be able to teach about Arab culture. Students need to learn who they are and see their identity respected in order to become good citizens.”