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Embattled teacher compared to Dreyfus

The controversy surrounding an unsuspecting high-school teacher who was denounced by one of his twelfth-grade students for allegedly expressing left-wing views in class escalated rapidly this week. Adam Verete, the teacher from Kiryat Tivon, has unwittingly been dubbed ‘Dreyfus of Tivon’; a routine meeting of the Knesset Education Committee became a heated argument over the issue, two hundred students demonstrated in Verete’s defense while the Education Minister maintains radio silence, garnering criticism, and the country’s top PR experts working for the ORT school system where Varete teaches stutters over basic questions.

On Thursday, Haaretz published ‘highlights’ from a secret recording of a hearing, in which Verete is heard speaking with one of the ORT administrators. The idea of a hidden tape should add juice and intrigue, but listening to it is more painful than thrilling. At times the teacher’s voice is shaking, dropping nearly to a whisper when he discusses the frightening incitement against him on Facebook. He insists on what he did and did not say: he never said that Israel is not a state for the Jews but for the Arabs, he claims; he had “a philosophical discussion” about whether calling the IDF the most moral army in the world makes it so, or whether such an army is capable of doing immoral things. When students asked his own opinion, he says, he responded that among the things the IDF does, there are some immoral things.

When he expresses fear of returning to school the following day knowing that Sapir Sabah, who lodged the complaint, is going around calling him a traitor – she also said in class that Israel has the death penalty for traitors – the ORT administrator replies: “but that’s her opinion.”

ORT’s spokespeople have generated confusion about its own handling of the issue. Earlier this week, spokespeople said that Verete himself offered to resign due to his difficulty with that student and class. On the tape he clearly says that he does not want to resign, out of commitment to his students –whose effusive support “moved me to tears,” he says. In the hearing, he suggested the administration address the threat to his physical safety based on the violent comments on Facebook, implying that he wasn’t sure whether to continue under those circumstances. (He subsequently turned to the police.) The ORT administration made it clear that it would be best for both him and the system if he resigned. He has said that he will not.

Over the last few days, students have established a Facebook page supporting him; 17 students attended the Knesset hearing and several spoke there. One student later  wrote:

It’s not every day that you get an opportunity to stand up for your beliefs and defend a person who is dear to you…At a certain point I also sat at the table [at the Knesset hearing] and showed my point of view about Adam’s civics classes. I said that to come to the class and talk about opinions that are sometimes contrary to my own, and sometimes not, that is stimulating, it arouses deep thought and attention to the other…And when the day comes that they take away that possibility, then children will also be scared to say their opinion, because if they silence a man who’s older than you and threaten his life, then the option of doing that and worse to youth like you will silence your desire to say your opinion as well.”

No one from the Ministry of Education attended the hearing. Teachers at the ORT school in Kiryat Tivon, sent an urgent letter to the administration of the ORT system, expressing concern for what they called the “personal persecution” of a member of their staff.

The teachers feel that the educational ground on which we stand is disintegrating beneath our feet…the community of teacher is very disturbed by the actions of the bodies involved in this affair, and we are concerned about the consequences of this incident on the teacher-student dialogue and on the status of teachers in Israel. We teachers feel exposed when clear preference is given to the opinions of students and parents, and we receive no support from the system.”

The ORT system has made no statements or taken any action expressing defense of its employee, a teacher with, as far as known, no history of problems. ORT’s responses make no mention of giving the employee a fair process or defending its choice of teachers. When asked if there is a regular process for evaluating individual teachers, which perhaps might provide a counterweight to the complaint of a single student, ORT’s spokespeople – a glitzy Israeli PR firm – ignored the question.

Sabah’s accusation implied that Verete violated the Ministry’s of Education’s injunction against teachers bringing politics into the classroom. The public directive of the Ministry of Education specifies that a teacher must not advocate for a political party, including raising funds, conducting campaigns or participating in party-conferences or meetings. Verete insists that he never advocated for a party, and that his discussions addressed sensitive public issues but provided opposing sides of the arguments and emphasized critical thinking. The directives also reject racism or incitement to violence. Verete wrote in a letter to his colleagues that the problems with Sabah began the previous year, when she expressed support for the opinion that “Arabs should be thrown into the sea,” and he laughed in response. He later apologized.

The angriest debates in mainstream media center on whether someone who criticized the morality of the IDF should be allowed to teach. One pundit on Israeli radio put it bluntly: “I do not want my kid studying under someone who criticizes the IDF,” because he wants his son to be a full an active participant in society. Yuli Tamir, Former Education Minister under a Labor government, said in response that only weak societies are unable to criticize themselves or teach criticism of their own institutions.

In the recording from his hearing, Verete says at one point:

We have bad luck that a discussion of human rights is considered to be delusional leftism. If I say that something which contradicts the human rights of – that violate a person’s basic rights whether that person is a refugee from Africa or a Palestinian person at a checkpoint – that’s considered a political statement, then the situation is serious, it can’t be that basic humane values are a political statement. They’re not.”

For more coverage of the Verete controversy:
On the Adam Verete affair and anti-democratic trends
Student’s ‘political persecution’ of teacher reaches national stage

For additional original analysis and breaking news, visit +972 Magazine's Facebook page or follow us on Twitter. Our newsletter features a comprehensive round-up of the week's events. Sign up here.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. The Trespasser

      >..he had “a philosophical discussion” about whether calling the IDF the most moral army in the world makes it so, or whether such an army is capable of doing immoral things…

      Well, from philosophical point of view, “the most moral army in the world” is not the same as “the only army which does not behave immorally”

      So, first he engages in an immoral straw-man type discussion, which kids can’t possibly win, and than uses the same bullshit argument to get off the hook. Well done. I bet he comments at Mondoweiss.

      By the way, I don’t think that Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred Dreyfus would approve comparing him to someone persecuted for spreading propaganda.

      Unless there is something I don’t know about the case, Dreyfus never questioned morality of French Army, or the Foreign Legion, neither did he questioned France’s rights to colonies or anything even remotely similar.

      Reply to Comment
    2. JohnW

      To me, the whole thing hinges on the following allegation:

      “He [the teacher] insists on what he did and did not say: he never said that Israel is not a state for the Jews but for the Arabs, he claims”

      If that is true, then I am on the teachr’s side.

      If it cannot be proven or disproven, then I think the teacher deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt.

      If on the other hand, it can be proven that he DID make such a statement to a class of impressionable young students to whom he serves as a role model, then in my opinion he crossed a red line and he SHOULD be dismissed.

      We need to wait and see how this unfolds.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Joel

      Dreyfuss was only accused of being a traitor by a fellow officer named Esterhaus, who was spying against France.
      Dreyfuss had been, and always reamond, a patriot.

      The comparison is moronic.

      Reply to Comment
      • sh

        The comparison’s fine if a bit overblown. Dreyfus was set up by Esterhazy, who incited against him and lied through his teeth. It’d be amusing to assign the roles of some of the affair’s other protagonists to decide which of them ORT is playing, but too laborious to bother with at this time of night.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Craig Vale

      A comparison to the schoolyard bully is apropos here in that the desire by some in Israel is to silence critics by labeling them as treacherous beings who seek to destroy their dream of attaining unanimity of thought and purpose. A fervent desire to have a malleable populace who march lock step in Pavlovian fashion subject only to the dog whistle being blown by those on the right who claim the moral high ground who in reality practice the opposite from the gutters filled with intolerance for dissent.
      I would think there are still many a living Jew who remember how the masses in pre WWII were led like lemmings into the abyss of total war and destruction and were subject to the same tactic on display in the case instant.. While some may scoff at the comparison ,the similarities of the process of getting everyone on the same page are eerily similar.Threats and inuendo. The thought police turned against Israel’s own citizenry .
      Cries of ” Traitor” meant to silence those opposed to policy can and do have the effect of squelching any and all dissent.
      This incident in particular is most troubling in that the accusatory finger is being pointed from within by a fellow Jew, seeking to quiet a dissenting voice that one would think has a constitutional protection by a nation claiming to be the ” only “Democracy” in the Middle East. This attack on Adam should give pause to Israeli society and hopefully have them reflect back to events in pre war Europe. This incident reminds me of the parable attributable to German Pastor Martin Niemoller when speaking of the Nazi’s stated the following:

      First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist.

      Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

      Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.

      Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

      Reply to Comment
      • Average American

        I agree. I’ll risk mentioning, since you’re mentioning WWII Europe, this reminds me of the Brownshirts, the Nazi youth who were rewarded for reporting on their neighbors, their friends, their teachers, even their parents.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          Pity that it did not remind you of leftist scumbag role model Pavel Morozov.

          Reply to Comment
    5. JohnW

      A bit of perspective please, people.

      A grave allegation has been made against a teacher. It needs to be investigated and only after the full facts emerge, should conclusions and decisions be made.

      People who call for the instant dismissal of this teacher are wrong. People who reflexively object to investigating this matter and claim that this teacher has the right to conduct his classes any way that he pleases are also wrong.

      To those who disagree with me, I ask them: how would they deal with a teacher who would try to teach his/her class that Baruch Goldstein was justified in what he did?

      Would you call for his/her dismissal? Or would you say that he/she should be allowed to teach impressionable kids whatever he/she wants to under the laws of free speech?

      Personally, if proven guilty, I would call for his/her dismissal too.

      Reply to Comment
    6. There is something vaguely Salem witch hunt in this affair, started by the cry of a 12th grader, who seems to know what treason is, and that traitors are given the death penalty. Many a family would tell their daughter to stop it and try to make this all go away. But the participants now are proxies all round.

      Verete said (recorded with his knowledge?)

      “If I say that something which contradicts the human rights of – that violate a person’s basic rights whether that person is a refugee from Africa or a Palestinian person at a checkpoint – that’s considered a political statement, then the situation is serious, it can’t be that basic humane values are a political statement. They’re not.”

      No, they are. That’s where the political line is now, else this event would have been made to go away by local administrators.

      Israel drafts its young and places them in theaters of risk. Soldiers need to trust one another and believe in the organization placing them there. There is no way a State run school, knowing its students will be drafted in a few years, if going to tolerate a teacher who says Israel is “not for the Jews but Arabs,” but I really doubt the teacher said that. So, yes, there is a line that cannot be crossed in that forum given the unending security issues which these students might soon be ordered into.

      That is quite different, however, than saying the IDF can commit immoral acts, or that such acts are not adequately policed by the IDF itself. I saw Charlie Rose in an interview with US Navy Seals deployed previously in Fallujah. One was asked about criticism of that war in the US. He said that once deployed it was too late for him to ask questions, but that whatever assignment he is given is partly to allow such criticism and doubt at home; then he said he wants people at home to doubt before any deployment decision is made, for the personal costs of the deployed are forever.

      Granted, the present case is about what one can say to a 12th grader; and maybe it should be too what a 12th grader can charge (traitor) a teacher with and be taken seriously. Criticism itself is too under threat; indeed, no matter the fate of this teacher, others will now find themselves stopping mid-voice. The greatest censor is internal fear.

      I note that a bill in the Knesset has pasts its first reading which would make it a crime to advocate the prosecution of an IDF soldier. This event seems of the same ilk. If Verete did not say Israel should be for the Arabs and not Jews (or some such); if he did not say one should not join the IDF; then the charges should be dismissed, hearings cease, and, I suggest, all should read a history of the Salem Witch Trials.

      Reply to Comment
    7. JohnW

      “There is something vaguely Salem witch hunt in this affair, started by the cry of a 12th grader”

      Interesting take. Now a question to you, Mr Pollock:

      If a 12th grader would allege that a teacher was telling the class that what Baruch Goldstein did was a brave and correct act, would you still feel about it the same way?

      Reply to Comment
      • JohnW

        … lets face it. Any investigation should not be all that complex, nor threatening to someone who is innocent of the allegations. Why? Because there are more than one students in a class. And if only one student makes the allegation without corroboration from other students, then the case should be dismissed. However, if more than one student corroborates the allegation then there is substance to it.

        Sure, it takes some time to interview other students but it is simple, isn’t it? And it SHOULD be done. We should not be sloppy when it comes to the education of our kids!

        Reply to Comment
      • I gave you what you wanted in the entire comment. If the allegation was as you say or, for that matter, that suicide bombers are righteous and Israelis must endure them as just punishment, then, just as if he did say “Israel is not for Jews but Arabs,” he should be dismissed if so shown to have said (actually, I think approving of a mass murder rather worse than a verbal expression that will never be actualized, but I’ll give you that, as these are students who will be conscripted in a few years). Given the student turnout in his corner, I doubt he said that; and I rather really doubt he would have such turnout under the two hypotheticals.

        So you are going to have to find a fight somewhere else.

        In any case, approving of a mass murderer is rather different than questioning the morality of some IDF acts. If you know the history of the Salem witch trials, they began with allegations by school age woman/girls and were taken up by adults leading to rather unpleasant things.

        I began to notice, from my tiny little window of 972 and very occasional other outlets, that things began to heat up over there once the refugees walked out of the “open prison.” There’s a rage on the right over there, and this young person has tapped into it, probably because she is seeped in it at home. I have a guess as to what that rage is about, but will let it pass here.

        Your counterfactual is of greater degree of distress than the actual allegation, the teacher buttressed by the support of faculty and students. And let us recall that the young lady was asked to apologize (by the administrator) for calling the teacher a traitor, with treason punishable by death (although I believe no one has so been executed in Israel–unlike the US); she refused. This looks like payback from a family that lives ideology. At the end of this, even if he retains his job, teachers may be wary of what they say. You didn’t quote this part of my prior comment:

        “The greatest censor is internal fear.”

        I think this could become a witch trial.

        Now John, in the US the repeated use of the sir name “Mr. Pollock” becomes an aggressive form of reference; you can get the same effect by repeatedly using “Sir.” My name is Greg. I spend too much time on this site, an indicator of a hobbled life. Yes, I let it get to me. I don’t think you’ll come across a more honest “leftist” (not to say others are less honest) than I on this site. I am not here to bash Israel, I am here because I haven’t turnout well in life, I have had a long interest in what I take to be your country, and I admire the courage of the 972 journalist group. I try to say things I think might be useful to them, not commentors, although I stray way too much from that goal. I’ve never gone to a right Israeli or American right site in my life (to comment) and likely never will.

        So please don’t taunt me to come out and show myself. You may have noticed that I have taken Ginger seriously–and she is further right than you, apparently. This doesn’t need to become, on all sides, a bash them in the head game.

        A man may lose his job, and be marked for years.

        Reply to Comment
        • JohnW

          Greg

          There is nothing wrong with investigsting allegations of sloppy teaching as long as the investigations are conducted fairly and professionally.

          The thing that was wrong with the Salem witch hunt was that there were no real investigations. The verdicts were predetermined.

          So, to be honest, your comparison of what is happening to this teacher to Salem, is offensive. Unless of course you have evidence that the verdict here too is predetermined?

          Well, have you? If not, then I would suggest that it would be more prudent for you not to make premature comments. Otherwise you are only kidding yourself if you call yourself moderate. Maybe not as extreme as some but not moderate either.

          Reply to Comment
    8. The Trespasser

      >…the desire by some in Israel is to silence critics by labelling them as treacherous beings who seek to destroy their dream of attaining unanimity of thought and purpose.

      Only a person does not know shit about Israel might think of such nonsense.

      >A fervent desire to have a malleable populace who march lock step in Pavlovian fashion subject only to the dog whistle being blown by those on the right who claim the moral high ground who in reality practice the opposite from the gutters filled with intolerance for dissent.

      Now Craig dehumanizes all Israelis who don’t believe in Left’s lies. How very civilized of you. Say, any of your relatives served in SS or something?

      >I would think there are still many a living Jew who remember how the masses in pre WWII were led like lemmings into the abyss of total war and destruction and were subject to the same tactic on display in the case instant..

      Rubbish. Just rubbish.

      >While some may scoff at the comparison ,the similarities of the process of getting everyone on the same page are eerily similar. Threats and innuendo. The thought police turned against Israel’s own citizenry.
      Cries of ”Traitor” meant to silence those opposed to policy can and do have the effect of squelching any and all dissent.

      And more rubbish. Thought police? Who cares what that teacher thinks? He has no right to work against the state which has hired him, that’s all.

      >This incident in particular is most troubling in that the accusatory finger is being pointed from within by a fellow Jew…

      Yet more rubbish. No, not rubbish. Purest idiocy. Who else should point and accusatory finger if not a Jew? An Arab, maybe?

      >seeking to quiet a dissenting voice that one would think has a constitutional protection by a nation claiming to be then ”only “Democracy” in the Middle East.

      1) Seeking to quiet a treacherous liar, to be exact.
      2) School teachers have no right to propagate their own misleading agenda using brainwashing techniques.

      >This attack on Adam should give pause to Israeli society and hopefully have them reflect back to events in pre war Europe.

      Thank you so much for your concern, but the Israeli society is too busy warding off hordes of murderous cannibals.

      >This incident reminds me of the parable attributable to German Pastor Martin Niemoller when speaking of the Nazi’s stated the following:

      That’s what I really like about European leftists: For them any Jew who wishes to live in a Jewish state is a Nazi by definition.

      Reply to Comment
    9. The Trespasser

      >as if he did say “Israel is not for Jews but Arabs,”

      As a matter of fact, it is nearly doubtless that he had said things like these, since it is the position of Israeli Left.

      >…Given the student turnout in his corner, I doubt he said that;

      200 Leftists who came to support one of their ilk prove nothing.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Dahlia Scheindlin

      @JohnW – I am in full agreement with Greg. Your tone is aggressive and not respectful. I don’t like to censor people having a discussion, but we always have this option. Instead, I will ask you to please refrain from personal attacks and haranguing. I follow all comments and this isn’t the first time. If I see that it continues, i will begin editing or removing your comments.

      Reply to Comment
      • JohnW

        Dahlia

        Thank you. I consider you as one of the more moderate writers on this site. But if so, if even a “moderate” person like you here has this attitude, then frankly, I am no longer interested in posting here. Please continue complaining about how draconian Israel is and miss the irony.

        This was my last post here.

        Reply to Comment
    11. Joel

      @ Dahlia

      “Your tone is aggressive and not respectful.”

      You’re gonna censor John for using ‘Mr.’ and ‘Sir’ ‘aggressively’?

      That’s nuts.

      Reply to Comment
    12. @JohnW and Joel – I invite you to read our comments policy, at http://972mag.com/about/#comment
      http://972mag.com/972-magazines-policy-for-commenting/
      I think politely asking someone to keep the debate civil on my personal channel, which I own, is a legitimate way to encourage substantive debate rather than drive people away.

      I am partly responding to the personal attacks and haranguing nature of JohnW’s comments on earlier posts, so Joel may be missing some context.

      Personally, I think that if you have to be rude to your opponent, you are probably covering up for weak arguments, but that’s just my opinion.

      You are welcome to state any opinion on the site, free of nasty personal attacks, or other problems cited in our policy.

      As for irony – please. Spare me.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Samuel

      “I am partly responding to the personal attacks and haranguing nature of JohnW’s comments on earlier posts, so Joel may be missing some context.”

      Personal attacks? I too have been following the discussions between John and Greg. At most, John chided Greg for being one sided. Moreover, Greg called him a “college student”. So what happened here? There was a vigorous discussion between two people with strong views. But you Dahlia, feel necessary to threaten to edit or even delete John’s posts?

      Interesting. I have seen here much more rude, even crude personal attacks by many people, both leftists and right wingers. But you feel the need to pick only on John? I think you are doing it because you find it difficult to counter his strong arguments.

      Reply to Comment
      • Why should it matter what John, or you, say about what I write as I already know my words are unimportant? Commenter K9 is rather much better at trying to pierce someone. I gave up on John’s calling me out on the other thread because it become clear it didn’t matter what I said unless I retracted or otherwise conformed. He did have a way, and still does, of making failure to reply seem, well, a badge of mental or moral inferiority. But we all do that to others.

        Which is the point. We all get to see our words appear and think we impact. Words must appear, but I have no illusions about the fate of mine.

        John’s done nothing untoward here (his omission on a previous encounter is another matter, but he will be what he will be, as so I too). Here, he asked me a question, I tried to reply, granting him, I thought, most of his position. But I was wrong about that.

        You all will decide who you engage. I’ve already decided that our hosts matter more than any commenter. For, you see, they use their names, in or building a career. And the Verete case shows how difficult that can become. It’s not a game where you can say what you want, then become somebody else. It’s life reputation.

        I hope I hear from John again.

        Reply to Comment
    14. The JillyBean

      I’ll make it real simple. NO ARMY IS MORAL. When there is a willingness to first kill your enemy instead of reconciling the differences diplomatically, it will never be moral. I mourn for a country where children like Sabir Sabah terrorize grown adults.

      Reply to Comment
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