Thelma and #MeToo
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Hebrew media review

Thelma and #MeToo

Report says Education Ministry investigating prestigious arts school after 3 more students come forward claiming inappropriate contact with teachers

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Girls outside a school. (illustrative photo: Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Girls outside a school. (illustrative photo: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Days after a high school teacher committed suicide over a news report alleging he engaged in sexual relations with his students, one of Israel’s major Hebrew-language media outlets had much to say about the unfolding scandal at one of country’s most prestigious arts schools.

In an exclusive, Yedioth Ahronoth reports that on Sunday the Education Ministry received three new complaints of inappropriate sexual contact between students and teachers at the Thelma Yellin High School for the Arts, in Givatayim in central Israel.

The new allegations brings the total number of complaints made against current and former teachers at one of Israel’s most prestigious arts schools to six. (One former music teacher has been accused of sexual assault over 20 times, including rape and sodomy).

The daily says that in the wake of Arad’s suicide, Education Minister Naftali Bennett has ordered an investigation into the new incidents and has appointed a taskforce to probe the wider culture of the school.

In its coverage of the unfolding scandal, Yedioth features some responses from current and former students grappling with the publicly unfolding scandal.

For the most part, current Thelma Yellin students seemed wary of the reports, noting that some of the allegations were from years ago, and bringing them up now is only tarnishing the school’s good reputation.

“All of this is being blown out of proportion,” one 12th-grader told Yedioth. “Even the whole Boaz Arad thing. If a student chose to have a relationship with him, that’s on her, and on him. It doesn’t say anything about our school.”

But former students are less forgiving, telling the paper that the boundaries between teachers and students at Thelma Yellin often became blurred.

“Here, the teacher is no longer an authoritative figure. He’s inside your soul,” one former student said. “I know for a fact that these boundaries have been crossed more than once. None of us were surprised by [the reports].”

Artist Boaz Arad (YouTube screenshot)

Another graduate expressed anger at the school for not taking action against Arad for his interactions with students.

“I knew about Boaz Arad. Everyone knew about him, and nobody did anything about it,” she told the paper anonymously. “Looking back on it now, I do really feel as though they abandoned us,” she added, warning that the school allowed a “dangerous” culture to thrive where “teachers with no boundaries are teaching students who admire them and want to please them.”

Also weighing in on the controversy in Monday’s paper is Michal Yannai, a former children’s TV star and graduate of Thelma Yellin.

Though she says she never witnessed any inappropriate conduct when she attended, Yannai, now a parent of two, urges both the students and parents to speak out against any kind of interaction that leaves them feeling uncomfortable.

“Pay attention and be alert, don’t worry about being called a tattletale,” she urges students. “If something feels wrong, then it is wrong. These are black and white issues, there’s no gray area here.”

Meanwhile, the free daily Israel Hayom features its own exclusive on the front page of Monday’s paper.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked arrives for the weekly government meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, December 17, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to its report, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked will later in the day publish a directive allowing the State Attorney’s Office to deny certain defendants free legal representation.

The pro-Netanyahu freebie hails the move, billed as a cost saving measure, as a “revolution in the Public Defender’s Office.”

Shaked is quoted as saying the “deluxe treatment” of Israel’s wealthiest criminals is over.

The directive, the paper explains, is an effort to reduce the waste of public funds on defendants who are able to pay for their own legal defense.

Israel Hayom’s expose says the measure seeks to reduce the “exploitation” of the Public Defender’s Office by wealthy, high-profile criminals.

Shaked tells the paper that while she firmly believes that all defendants have the right to be tried in court, she “will not allow the absurd situation in which the biggest financial criminals will continue to make their millions at the expense of the public, and then receive legal representation at the expense of the Public Defender.”

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