"As a retired general, I can testify that there are immoral things done by the IDF
," said Knesset Member Amram Mitzna (Hatnua
) during a Knesset's Education Committee discussion Wednesday afternoon.
The committee, which he himself chairs, held a debate regarding the Kiryat Tivon teacher Adam Verta who was summoned to a hearing this week after expressing political opinions to his classroom.
The Knesset discussion was meant to deal with the general issue of teachers expressing political remarks, but quickly became a debate about this specific case. Mitzna stressed: "We have held 150 discussions with this committee so far, though I believe this is the most important one of all."
He turned to the principal of the school and the CEO of ORT school system, Zvika Peleg, and called upon them to bring the teacher back to the classroom.
ORT's Peleg was under fierce criticism by opposition MKs in the heated debate after he read the teacher's remarks from his hearing. The teacher was absent from the discussion since it was intended to address the phenomenon in general.
Students rallying for civics teacher, Monday (Photo: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv) Photo: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv
Photo: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv
Chairman Mitzna presented a stance by which the teacher has the right, and perhaps even the duty, to express a political opinion on fundamental issues and encourage a discussion in which different positions are presented.
Opposition and Labor
Chairman Isaac Herzog said: "A teacher is first and foremost a citizen, and he is allowed to express his opinion. I strongly oppose this witch-hunt that could start with a teacher and end with an MK. We live in a multi-cultural society with a variety of opinion, and thus the fact that one person expressed his should not pose a threat to his livelihood."
According to Herzog, "if a teacher expressed a problematic stance, there are ways to deal with it; he should not be faced with drumhead court-martial. The education system needs to establish ground rules on the matter, including a ban on encouraging law violating, a ban on incitement to racism and prohibiting undermining Israel's
existence as a Jewish and democratic state.
"On all other matters it should be permitted to hold a lively democratic discussion that brings a variety of opinions to the students."
Chairwoman MK Zahava Gal-On criticized Education Minister Shai Prison for not publicly expressing his position on the matter yet. "Where did the voice of Education Minister Shai Piron go? Instead of dealing with reforms all day, perhaps he should remember that the most important reform is bring back the culture of thinking and discussing, even on matters of controversial current events."
Conversely, MK Yoni Chetboun (Habayit Hayehudi)
said: "Not only is the discussion here irrelevant, but it is full of hypocrisy. An open political debate is a meaningful and worthy matter in a democratic society, but every democratic society has basic values. Once a teacher comes and defies the fundamental values of the society, it is not expressing a political position – it is incitement.
"Calling the IDF a 'cruel army' is slander and not legitimate. We shouldn't be afraid of values, and all those so-called pluralists, who go up against ORT (school systems), are filled with hypocrisy and lies."
Peleg replied to those present and said: "For 65 years we have kept ORT as a non-political network in its essence. It is the only school system that served all of Israel's population, of its many sectors. As such, we have only two flagships – values and technology, nothing beyond that. But in the Jewish sector a significant part of our measures of value is recruitment to the army."
The Knesset debate was also attended by several of Verta's students who called for allowing political debate on controversial issues in the classroom: "This is what enables us to develop critical positions."
ORT schools said that "a request from the office of the education minister was received on the matter of the teacher. After examining the incident with the teacher's direct managers, he was called for a hearing that was meant to allow him to be heard. He asked to reevaluate his dismissal from the school."
He later on decided to continue working with the establishment. "As per his request, another hearing on the matter will be held. The additional hearing is expected to be carried out next week, and only then a decision will be made."
It was further stated: "The claim that ORT is attempting to 'silence opinions' is baseless. Of course, if hurtful, baseless, unfounded and generalizing remarks are made by teachers we will not stand for them or accept them."
ORT stressed that the school system works according to the rules and regulations and the Ministry of Education which state: "A teacher is to be seen as impartial, neutral and objective and not criticize or encourage one political stance over another." Non-compliance with these provisions may result in proceedings as stated by the law, they explained.