The head of Israeli human rights group B’Tselem gave a webinar to students in Haifa on Monday in defiance of an order by Education Minister Yoav Gallant, who said he was banning members of groups that “call Israel false derogatory names” from entering schools in the country.
Gallant’s announcement followed a decision by B’Tselem to begin referring to Israel as an “apartheid state.”
According to a local news website, the Hebrew Reali School webinar on human rights, attended by the left-wing group’s director Hagai El-Ad, went ahead after the school requested that the Education Ministry demonstrate a legal basis for the ban.
The outlet said that when there was no response, the educational institution decided to hold the online event, which was attended by nearly 300 12th-grade students and staff members.
“We are proud of the high level of involvement of our students in issues that are at the core of the agenda, and we intend to continue the tradition,” the school said in a statement to the Walla news site.
In a Sunday letter to his office’s director and to school district managers, Gallant said entry to schools should be prohibited to “groups that act in contradiction to the education system’s goals, including calling Israel false derogatory names, opposing Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state, discouraging meaningful service in the Israel Defense Forces, or acting to harm or humiliate IDF soldiers during or after their service.” The letter did not mention B’Tselem by name.
B’Tselem last week said that while Palestinians live under different forms of Israeli control in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and within Israel itself, they have fewer rights than Jews in the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
“One of the key points in our analysis is that this is a single geopolitical area ruled by one government,” said El-Ad. “This is not democracy plus occupation. This is apartheid between the river and the sea.”
Israel’s leaders reject such accusations, saying that within Israel’s sovereign borders, its non-Jewish Arab minority enjoys equal rights, that it has withdrawn from the Gaza Strip to the pre-1967 lines, and that it remains open to negotiating the future of the West Bank.
Israel says the restrictions it imposes in Gaza and the West Bank are temporary measures needed for security due to repeated terror attacks emanating from those regions.
Israeli lawmakers have repeatedly clashed with human rights groups monitoring alleged abuses in the territories it controls.
In 2018, the Knesset passed a law that empowered the education minister to ban organizations critical of the Israeli military from entering schools.
The bill was mainly aimed at curtailing the activities of Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization that gathers and publishes largely anonymous testimonies by former Israeli combat soldiers about alleged human rights violations against Palestinians in the West Bank.
The organization has often locked horns with the Israeli political and military brass, and its critics have denounced its reports as dishonest, inaccurate, and part of an advocacy campaign intended to harm Israel’s image overseas.
The group and its supporters say it performs a vital service in exposing to the Israeli public the realities faced by young Israeli soldiers who have to control a civilian Palestinian population on a daily basis.
In 2016, Israeli lawmakers passed into law the controversial Transparency Bill, which dramatically increases transparency requirements for fewer than two dozen Israeli organizations — Breaking the Silence among them — that get most of their funding from foreign governments.
A Justice Ministry analysis of the legislation showed that nearly all the Israeli organizations affected by the law were groups that oppose Israel’s presence in the West Bank.
There have been no substantive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in some six years.