A controversial bill empowering the education minister to ban organizations critical of the Israeli military from entering schools was approved by the Knesset early Tuesday morning, giving the go-ahead to bar the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence.
The law is largely aimed at curtailing the activities of Breaking the Silence, which gathers and publishes largely anonymous accounts by former Israeli combat soldiers about alleged human rights violations against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank.
The bill passed its second and third readings by a wide margin.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the hawkish Jewish Home party, welcomed the development saying it is important to the education of future generations.
“The situation in which organizations that seek to undermine the legitimacy of Israel and hound IDF soldiers can surreptitiously access Israel’s pupils — ended today,” said Bennett, who co-sponsored the bill with party colleague Shuli Moalem-Refaeli. “Breaking the Silence long ago crossed the boundaries of legitimate discourse when they chose to slander Israel in the international arena.”
“As long as they continue to act abroad against Israel and the IDF, I will not allow their activities in the education system,” Bennett continued. “You want to act? Act at home. In the education system, which is entrusted with shaping the future generation, such voices will not be given expression.”
Breaking the Silence has been panned by the right wing as traitorous and has often locked horns with the Israeli political and military brass, who have tried to clamp down on foreign funding of it and other dovish groups.
Its critics have denounced its reports as dishonest, inaccurate, and part of an advocacy campaign intended to harm Israel’s image overseas.
Breaking the Silence 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.
Moalem-Refaeli said in a statement: “The education system is intended to instill values of loving the individual and the state and significant military service. Anyone who acts against those basic values will no longer be permitted to enter education institutes in Israel.”
Breaking the Silence responded to the legislation with a statement saying: “Education Minister Naftali Bennett is so afraid of Breaking the Silence that he passed a ‘law to silence the occupation.’
“This attempt to gag Breaking won’t succeed in hiding the occupation from [students], but it shows how afraid Bennett and his friends are of their own ideology,” Breaking the Silence said. “You want to shut us up? End the occupation.”
Tamar Zandberg, leader of the left-wing Meretz party, tweeted her support for the group.
“Breaking the Silence is not against IDF soldiers. Breaking the Silence *are* IDF soldiers. IDF soldiers who return from the territories and tells us the reality of military rule. Instead of closing our eyes and hoping the reality will disappear, we need to simply end the occupation,” she wrote.
Right-wing organization Im Tirtzu applauded the legislation and called for more measures against left-wing groups.
“The amendment to the bill clarifies once and for all that you can’t have your cake and eat it,” it said in a statement. “Anyone who acts on the international stage against Israel can’t do that inside [the country]. We hope that this law will lead to outlawing the rest of the delegitimization organizations.”
Bennett first proposed the legislation in December 2016 after three high school principals ignored his guidelines on prohibiting the organization from speaking to students.
Last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would not meet with visiting foreign dignitaries who also meet with representatives of the group. He even canceled a planned meeting with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel after the latter defied a warning not to meet with the organization.
Two years ago, Israeli lawmakers passed into law the controversial Transparency Bill, which dramatically increases transparency requirements for fewer than two dozen Israeli NGOs — 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.