‘Indoctrinating’ teacher to remain in classroom

‘Indoctrinating’ teacher to remain in classroom

Educator apologizes to student who accused him of using ‘brainwashing, anti-Zionist’ methods, ridiculing her right-wing views

Yifa Yaakov is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Israeli civics teacher Adam Verete seen in Tel Aviv on January 30, 2014. Verete, who teaches civics at the ORT school in Kiryat Tivon, was accused by student Sapir Sabah of expressing opinions “against the state,” in a letter she wrote to Education Minister Shai Piron. (photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)
Israeli civics teacher Adam Verete seen in Tel Aviv on January 30, 2014. Verete, who teaches civics at the ORT school in Kiryat Tivon, was accused by student Sapir Sabah of expressing opinions “against the state,” in a letter she wrote to Education Minister Shai Piron. (photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)

High school teacher Adam Verete, who was accused by a senior of “brainwashing” students to adopt “extreme left-wing, anti-Zionist views,” will remain in his post after apologizing to the student, Sapir Sabah.

The ORT educational network, which is Verete’s employer, announced Thursday that Verete had “apologized to the student and even retracted some of his statements,” mostly about enlistment in the IDF, and would not be dismissed.

The statement quoted ORT director Zvi Peleg as saying that the network would not tolerate “the expression of extreme personal views by teachers,” but only “a wide representation of all views, expressed in an equal, respectful way,” without ridiculing students whose views run contrary to those of their teacher.

“However, keeping in mind that this was the third altercation between the teacher and student, we have decided to give the teacher a warning to prevent this from recurring,” the statement read.

Verete, who teaches philosophy and Jewish thought at Kiryat Tivon’s Ort Greenberg high school, was pressured by the network to resign “for my own good and the good of the system” in recent weeks after Sabah wrote a letter to Education Minister Shai Piron (Yesh Atid) accusing the teacher of “brainwashing.”

Verete, she claimed, had voiced opinions in class that amounted to incitement against the state and the IDF.

Rather than dismiss him, the board recommended that he resign, but he refused.

In January, Haaretz quoted Verete as telling friends that his decision to “turn down the suggestion to resign” stemmed from a commitment to his students that was “far greater” than his commitment to the system.

“This is the same system that backs students who slander me, incite against me and try to jeopardize my career,” he said, saying the accusations leveled at him amounted to “political persecution.”

Verete reportedly added that Sabah had called him a “traitor” and said he “should be executed,” and that the education system had taken no action, in response, against the student and her friends, “who joined the smear campaign against me.”

Sabah’s letter made waves on social media sites after its contents were published on the Facebook page of the former far-right MK Michael Ben Ari, with dozens of students defending Verete and praising him for his exemplary teaching methods and caring demeanor.

“Sapir from Kiryat Tivon writes to the education minister. Will he summon her to hear how the anti-Zionist left is poisoning the wells of the education system?” Ben Ari wrote, drawing ire from some of Verete’s other students — many of whom, according to Verete, were defenseless in the face of “intimidation” by Sabah and her friends.

In her letter to the education minister, Sabah said she had chosen leadership as one of her specializations for the matriculation exams, but that she found herself “encountering many difficulties” during classes taught by Verete, one of the teachers in the program.

“Adam makes sure to emphasize his political views during every lesson,” Sabah wrote. “He explains that he’s an extreme leftist, that he believes our state isn’t a Jewish state at all, but belongs to the Palestinians and that we [Jews] shouldn’t be here.”

Sabah said Verete was very outspoken in his criticism of the IDF, even accusing the Israeli army of “extraordinary cruelty and violence” compared to other armies.

“He explains that the IDF is completely immoral and that he is ashamed of our country’s army,” she said.

Sabah added that Verete had also recounted that, during a conference abroad, he had shouted “Viva Palestine.”

“When I expressed my opinion and told him I don’t agree with his views, he laughed and said, ‘Killing all the Arabs — that’s what you want,’ ” she wrote.

Sabah said that, although she had protested Verete’s characterization of her, he “ignored me and continued to humiliate and hurt me during every lesson, in front of my classmates.”

She added that while Verete had apologized after he was questioned by the school, further action was needed to prevent him from continuing to “abuse his position to plant such misguided thoughts about our country and army in the minds of students.”

After the letter was published on Ben Ari’s Facebook page, a heated discussion ensued in the comments, with Sabah and her siblings defending her call for action against Verete. Meanwhile, other students of Verete praised him as an exemplary educator.

“Those who read the letter read a story that was completely disconnected from reality,” put in one student, May Manovitz. “Adam may be the best teacher I’ve ever had. He taught me a lot. He’s an extraordinary teacher who genuinely cares about his students, encourages an open debate in class and without a doubt allows every student to state his or her opinion.”

Another classmate, Idan Levy, said Verete had not incited students to accept his own political views, but had merely tried to expose the students to a variety of opinions in order to encourage a more balanced discussion.

“My opinions didn’t change because of Adam’s lessons,” he wrote.

“During class, Adam allowed us to state our opinions, and whenever we said anything, he almost always presented the opposite view. It was usually the left-wing view, but I think he only did it to encourage us to think differently and introduce a contrasting opinion.”

Noam Babad, a junior in the same high school, said she was “shocked” by the content of Sabah’s letter.

Babad said that, although Verete had expressed opinions that differed from her own, she had never felt he was trying to force them on her or on any of the other students, and that she had never heard him react disparagingly to any of the students’ views.

A fourth student, Shakked River, wrote that in the two-and-a-half years he had been Verete’s student he got to know “an excellent teacher and a wonderful human being” who encouraged open, respectful discussions in class.

“I never felt we were being brainwashed in class, or even that certain opinions weren’t acceptable” to Verete, River wrote. “I’m not in [Sabah’s] class, but knowing Adam, I can be 100 percent certain some of the allegations in the letter are false and never occurred. He never incited anyone against anything,” he said. “What’s more, he encourages students to be free-thinking and to scrutinize all opinions deeply.”

MK Michael Ben Ari (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)
Michael Ben Ari (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)

Roee Erez, a student in Sabah’s own class, accused the senior of interpreting events that had taken place during class “in a mistaken and unrealistic way.”

Erez added that in a democratic state, different opinions could be expressed in class without being construed as incitement.

“[Verete] never tried to convince us and say there is no room for Jews here and that this state is Palestinian. You presented things in an unrealistic way, and all because Adam didn’t accept your opinion — because he doesn’t believe in it… He always allowed you to express your views, and all he did was disagree with them. You’ve gone too far,” he said.

Sabah herself responded to her classmates’ criticism of her, saying the Education Ministry and the school administration were “horrified” by the letter and had called Verete in for a hearing before asking him to resign.

“If my words were baseless, they would not have taken such extreme measures,” Sabah said. She added that she suspected the students were defending Verete because of his lenient teaching methods, which eschewed examinations and encouraged political discussions in lieu of a fixed curriculum.

Her sister, Mor, accused the students of defending Verete because they agreed with his opinions. “My sister is one of the only ones who spoke out against him,” she said.

The discussion quickly deteriorated, with Sabah and her supporters hurling slurs at the senior’s “Ashkenazi” peers.

Not content with commenting on Ben Ari’s Facebook post, Verete’s students took action to defend him and prevent his dismissal, issuing a letter to Kiryat Tivon Mayor David Arieli protesting the “negative and anti-Zionist” light in which their school was painted after the letter was publicized.

“Our school has a very high rate of enlistment and pre-military volunteer programs,” read the introduction to the letter, which was signed by 19 of Verete’s students. “It promotes values such as attentiveness, openness and multiple opinions alongside love of our country and state.”

In their letter, the students said Verete had shown them “consideration, sensitivity and understanding,” and that his lessons were always “interesting, original and unique, and — perhaps more importantly — meaningful for us, genuinely transformative, both intellectually and emotionally.”

They said the atmosphere during Verete’s lessons was “always open,” encouraging students to voice diverse and even contrasting opinions, “knowing they would be taken attentively, seriously and respectfully.”

Stressing that they had never heard Verete express opinions “that could be called extreme,” the students urged the school to open an “in-depth, thorough investigation” into Sabah’s allegations, expressing “full confidence” that a “full and meticulous examination of the matter” would expose the claims as false.

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