Tel Aviv school principal resigns as board bans student event on refusing IDF draft

Some 200 students intended to jointly announce refusal to serve in military, citing judicial overhaul and actions in West Bank; Education Ministry had threatened to defund school

Zeev Degani, school principal of Tel Aviv's Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, in 2023 (video screenshot DemocraTV; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Zeev Degani, school principal of Tel Aviv's Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, in 2023 (video screenshot DemocraTV; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A Tel Aviv school principal announced his resignation Sunday after the school board canceled a planned event at which some 200 12th graders and alumni intended to announce their refusal to serve in the military.

The students at Tel Aviv’s famed Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium had said they would issue a letter declaring their refusal at the event, which had been set for Sunday, as a protest against the government’s judicial overhaul push and Israel’s decades-long control over the West Bank.

On Saturday, the school’s board held a meeting in which it decided to overrule principal Zeev Degani and ban the event.

Degani told the board Sunday that in light of the decision to “bar high school alumni from making their voices heard, against my position, I ask to announce with great pain that I can no longer work under your supervision.”

The teens had planned to hold “alternative classes on the lawn about real democracy and resistance,” with featured speakers to include activists, a communist youth group and representatives of several advocacy organizations involved in climate change, transgender rights and documenting alleged rights abuses in the West Bank.

“We must stop the judicial overhaul and we must stop taking part in a military that serves settlements and the occupation,” 17-year-old Tal Mitnick, one of the organizers of the “youth against dictatorship” initiative, said in a video statement. “We decided to use our power, as those designated for military service, to protest and say we will not enlist.”

File: The entrance to Tel Aviv’s Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium (Public Domain/Wikipedia)

The announcement led to threats from the Education Ministry that funds could be pulled from the institution. Acting ministry director-general Meir Shimoni wrote to the school that “using the school premises to provide a stage for one-sided views… is unbecoming and disrespectful.” He also argued the event, as planned, would be against regulations.

Students said the board “folded in the face of the anti-democratic assault trying to silence our voices… We will not stop and will hold the event — in the school or outside of it.” They thanked Degani for “standing by our side without giving in.”

The right-wing advocacy organization Im Tirtzu welcomed the board decision, calling it “a win for sanity, a win for Zionism… We thank all those who expressed their justified anger and demanded the shameful event be canceled. Israeli society still has values.”

There have been numerous cases of small groups of 12th graders refusing to serve in the Israel Defense Forces to protest the country’s policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians. Israel allows military service exemptions for a number of reasons, including mental health and medical problems and religious objections, and for Arab Israelis, but rarely for conscientious objectors. Refusal to serve is one of the most divisive issues in Israel.

The letter’s invocation of the judicial overhaul — government efforts to weaken the judiciary — came amid mass protests and warnings by thousands of reservists that they would stop showing up for volunteer duty, charging that the government’s plans to weaken the judiciary will turn Israel into an undemocratic country.

Some of the reservists have since acted on this threat after the coalition in July passed the so-called reasonableness law, curbing the courts’ authority to scrutinize government actions. No official figures have been made available on how many reservists have failed to show up for duty thus far.

Top IDF commanders have warned the reservist protests are having an increasingly negative impact on military readiness, drawing rebukes from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, other lawmakers, and supporters of the government.

Netanyahu’s coalition has rejected the reservists’ protests as a dangerous and unprecedented form of political blackmail by the military. Some coalition lawmakers suggested the protests are tantamount to an attempted military coup.

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