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Student's 'political persecution' of teacher reaches national stage

An Israeli student’s accusations that her teacher expressed leftist views, amplified by a far-right political figure, now have the teacher fighting for his job.

Israel’s education minister ordered the Ort school system to investigate a complaint against a high school teacher from one of its schools in the north of Israel, following a letter from a 12th-grade student. The student wrote to the minister alleging that her teacher promoted extreme-left political opinions in class, including criticism of the IDF and saying that Israel was not a state for Jews, but rather for Palestinians. The teacher was called in for a hearing, and his job appears to be on the line; Haaretz reports that he has stated he will not resign.

Former MK Michael Ben Ari, one of the most outspoken far-right members of the far-right party National Union party in the previous Knesset, published the letter on his Facebook site.

Adam emphasizes his political views in every class. He explained that he’s an extreme leftist, that…our state is not even the state of the Jews but it’s for the Palestinians, and that we (Jews) shouldn’t be here. He also emphasized that the IDF is unusually cruel and violent, by contrast to other armies…the IDF is completely immoral and he’s ashamed of his state. Adam also told us that during a conference abroad, he shouted ‘Viva Palestine.’ When I expressed my opinion and said that I don’t agree with those things he laughed and said: ‘You would just kill all the Arabs – that’s what you want.’ Of course that’s not my intention and I explained that to him, but he ignored me and continued to humiliate me and to insult me in front of the whole class. When I went to the administration about this, they held several conversations with him, where Adam admitted that he laughed at what I said and even apologized.

The main thing is not that he ridiculed me in front of the class, but the fact that he is part of the education system, and he uses his position to drive these wrongful thoughts into the students, about our state and our army…”

The ensuing debate has rankled students in the small northern town of Kiryat Tivon, sparked a brutal online debate, and has reverberated through Ort school system, which is part of the national education system.

Haaretz reported that after the student, Sapir Sabah, wrote to the Education Minister, he directed the central office of the Ort school system to look into the matter and the latter held a hearing. Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post reported that he was about to be fired, or that Ort administrators had proposed that he step down; he refused. Spokespeople for the Ort school system told +972 Magazine that it was Adam Verete himself who, at the end of the hearing, decided he was unable to teach that student or class, and considered stepping down.

According to Haaretz, the trouble started a year earlier (my translation).

“Verta told his friends at the school that the first conflict with Sabah was the previous year, when she expressed support for the statement that ‘All the Arabs should be thrown into the sea,’ and his first response was to laugh. Sabah complained that Verete humiliated her and after a talk with the school administration, he apologized…A few months later, in a discussion after class, Verta told his friends that Sabah had said to him: ‘the State of Israel has death penalty for traitors,’ and that he is a traitor. According to him [Verete – ds] the high school principal demanded that Sabah apologize for what she had said, and that she refused.”

But the story of a teacher being persecuted by a student for expressing unpalatable views is nearly overshadowed by the deep vitriol the case has exposed, which can hardly be distinguished from incitement – not so much against Arabs or Palestinians, but against the Left.

In introducing the letter on his Facebook site, Michael Ben-Ari  wrote the following status update: “Sapir from Kiryat Tivon writes to Education Minister Shai Piron, [sic] will he call on her to hear how the anti-Zionist left is poisoning the wells of the education system.” In the Middle Ages, Jews were charged with poisoning wells and spreading the Black Death, as incitement to justify subsequent pogroms.

Users claiming to be Sapir Sabah and her brother and sister were active participants in the lengthy discussion on Ben Ari’s Facebook page. Comments included the following (my translation)

 “How can we…ensure that this teacher doesn’t continue to teach?”

“Stupid. Zero. Coward. Leftist. Traitor…Punishment: Tattoo a Star of David on his forehead and parachute him into Gaza.”

“Maybe the Satanic teacher wants to move to Syria…”

“His mother fucked an Arab.”

“I would pull down this teacher’s underwear and whip him on the ass – with the whip in my right hand!”

“One day all the MKs and judges will be leftists and we’ll be a minority…oh, oops, it’s already happening…in schools, in the Knesset, in the Supreme Court, we are turning into a minority and after all that’s happened, the day is not far when they’ll recommend hanging us in the town square.”

Numerous users who claimed to be Verete’s pupils struck back, saying they had never experienced anything remotely coercive about his attitudes in class. Many insisted that he always encouraged and fostered open debate and respected the opinions of all students; the Jerusalem Post reported that some of them signed a petition insisting that he “always fostered free exchange of views.”

The laconic response given by spokespeople on behalf of the Ort system sought mainly to reassure readers of its commitment to IDF and made no attempt to defend its teacher. As part of the education system of Israel, said the written response, the Ort system “carries the banner of values through education in all its institutions, and guides its students towards being drafted into the IDF.” The statement also said that as a result of cooperative educational activities with the IDF, the draft rate of its students is among the highest in the country.

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    1. Being a too frequent blogger here, I know how falsely important the activity can become. And I’m no longer in high school.

      Throwing Arabs into the sea is no different than pushing Israel into the sea–unless you are wedded to a favorite team, and it might be worth remembering than each family is its own favorite team. The nation state becomes a generalization of that feeling. Coupling recruitment from high school into the IDF, which I believe is done, with IDF coming to give presentations, and the effect will be quite amplified. And we are dealing with teens here who, biologically, were long ago designed to enter the reproductive fray–but not today.

      During the Vietnam War there were similar events, even on college campuses. Although the character of the laugh is not described, I’d say accept the apology with a reprimand. The young lady’s final justification

      “that he is part of the education system, and he uses his position to drive these wrongful thoughts into the students, about our state and our army”

      is quite in line with the Boycott and Nakba laws, which have banned some speech. Now we are always going to ban speech. A teacher cannot suggest sexual acts to his students. By condensing the State into “us,” this is effectively what Adam is seen as doing. The only way out I can think of is to restrict political speech to specific class room activity, on all sides. But the aforementioned laws have already tilted decision to his removal. Since the IDF is going to recruit in schools, the best one can do is insulate politics to a specific class forum, perhaps even letting students opt out.

      I have just listened to Martin Luther King’s speech opposing the Vietnam War. Do you think it could have been played in high schools back then?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Kolumn9

      More of that annoying nonsense equating the ‘left’ with ‘the Jews’. There was an article today in Haaretz equating this guy with Dreyfus. Oh no! An extreme leftist is being ‘persecuted’ for insisting on brainwashing children in school with his far-left ideology. Let’s equate him with the persecution of Jews through the ages. If he gets fired I presume the proper metaphor will be the Holocaust.

      Indeed there is deep vitriol in Israel against the extreme left. It is a small group that has as its ideology a belief that their country is always wrong and with a goal of destroying the state and whose voice is amplified by its willingness to accept funds from external organizations and governments determined to weaken Israel. Why would any sane Israeli like the extreme left?

      And unless you choose to define them as an ethnic or religious group, it isn’t about who ‘they are’. It is the ideology they believe and the foreign masters that they effectively serve that make them detestable.

      Reply to Comment
      • Craig Vale

        Seems that free speech or freedom to think for one’s self is an anethema in the Israeli educational system. To read the charge made against Adam, one would think he was advocating for fair treatment of a fellow human being. What was he thinking ?

        Reply to Comment
    3. Ginger Eis

      Razor-sharp self-criticism and (almost) unlimited free speech are among well settled peremptory norms of Jewish traditions across the globe. This aspect of the tradition has its advantages and disadvantages. But the advantages by far outweigh the disadvantages and accounts for the hidden strength of Jews as a People. Unlike most Peoples on earth, the Jewish People do not and will never have a short supply of lunatic rebel-academics and anti-Zionist teachers such as Jeff Halper, Noam Chomsky, Norman G. Finkelstein, etc. The State Of Israel will continue to RESPECT and PROTECT the Rights and Freedoms of Free Speech of ALL, including they who chose to use those Rights and Freedoms to smear, humiliate and delegitimize IDF-soldiers and Officers who pay the ultimate prize to provide them with the security-blanket under with they exercise those Rights and Freedoms. BUT what The State Of Israel will NOT do is to allow the same anti-Zionists and anarchist-academics to use Israeli schools to indoctrinate Israeli children against the State Of Israel and its most important institution(s), while being funded and paid by the State Of Israel. This teacher – Adam Verta – is gone! As he should be.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Robert P

      On the one hand we have a denunciation of the teacher so obviously preposterous that it could be North Korean. On the other we have students at the school standing up for the teacher and saying that he always encouraged open debate. The truth of what is going on here should be obvious. That girl is no better than the child who was feted by Stalin for denouncing his parents.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ginger Eis

        Mr. Robert P., I have these questions for you:
        a. What makes the “denunciation of the teacher so obviously preposterous”?
        b. What have “students at the school standing up for the teacher and saying that he always encouraged open debate” got to do with the specific allegation against the teacher in this particular instance?
        c. Why do you think that Adam Verta has the right to free speech and to indoctrinate his students against the IDF, but that his student (“the girl” you talked about) has no right to dissent (under the same free speech)?
        Seriously, are you making use of your G-D given brain or are you just overwhelmed by the urge to rant against the State Of Israel – ad nauseam, at any given opportunity?

        Reply to Comment
    5. Piotr Berman

      a. what makes the denunciation of the teacher preposterous?

      I read the accusation more then twice, and it is hard to see what the teacher did wrong. The complaining student voiced some opinion, summarized by Mr. Verta as “All Arabs should be thrown into the sea”, and un-summarized in her version. In her version, he replied that she would like to kill all the Arabs and laughed at that, humiliating her in the process. She did not agree with Verta and he did not discuss her views seriously.

      While one can dispute if throwing all Arabs into the see would kill all of them, it would definitely kill a large proportion, so it would be an act of ethnic cleansing and murder on a massive scale. Advocating such a course of action is illegal in many countries, including Israel (laws against incitement), but criminalizing the speech during a class is not a wise thing to do.

      From the complaint and the version of Mr. Verta we learn that he laughed at the student. In her opinion it humiliated her, so apparently he convinced most of the class. I guess, in a situation when a student engages in murderous incitement, the first priority should be to reduce her following.

      To summarize, it was the duty of Mr. Verta to tell the students that the view that all Arabs (or even some Arabs) should be thrown into the sea is not correct, and to use his persuasive skills, including humor, to convince them. After all, both as an action and as mere speech, it was against the laws of the state, and a teacher is a functionary of the state.

      The complaint is preposterous because it alleges that Mr. Verta properly executed his duty.

      b. What does the testimony of other students got to do with the specific allegation?

      In general, it is good to have testimony of other students when one considers allegations against the teacher, particularly if the alleged conduct took place in public. In the described situation, the student did not have the right to propagate her views without hindrance, to the contrary, it would be a dereliction of duty to let it slide. However, there is still question if the methods used by Mr. Verta were proper. The feeling of “open debate” described by the other students suggests exactly that.

      There are also other allegations against Me. Verta that sound implausible, and those allegation are even more implausible if so many students in a high school proud of its rate of IDF recruitment found nothing wrong in his behavior.

      c. why does Mr. Verta has the right to speak and indoctrinate, and the student does not?

      I can only repeat: it is the duty of Mr. Verta to indoctrinate students to follow the laws of the state that neither allows to throw Arabs into the sea not allows to advocate that. Moreover, it is up to an educator to decide how much time a student can spent to speak in class. It may be hard to second guess split second decisions, but the right of the teacher to make such decisions is obvious.

      Reply to Comment
      • You know, Piotr sounds right. The idea of criminalizing “throw all Arabs (or Jews) (or everybody) into the sea” is rather strange to my rabid free speech mind, but if Israeli law would classify such a statement as incitement, then Adam was in fact doing the young lady a favor by making light of the matter. Since “all Arabs” would include Israeli Arab citizens, the young lady could be construed as making a death threat, really about 2 million such threats, against fellow citizens. But perhaps a death threat is not incitement.

        Thank you Piotr for showing how absurd this allegation is.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ginger Eis

        Piotr and Greg, I disagree with your position on this. Indeed, allegedly saying/suggesting throwing Arabs/Jews into the sea is flat out wrong. But that’s NOT the issue. NOR is the issue whether or not a teacher may engage his/her students in an open debate on controversial topics, while playing the role of the proverbial ‘devil’s advocate’ to elicit the opinions of the students, provoke their thoughts, make them think even harder with the goal of improving their thinking skills and the manner and methods of argumentation. The issue is (a) the specific relevant allegations against the teacher per the filed petition, (b) whether or not those allegations are based on facts and (c) amounts to conduct(s) unbecoming of a teacher. Every other thing (e.g. the alleged support from few students) is completely irrelevant (from the legal point of view). So, what exactly are the relevant specific allegations against the teacher in the present case? We don’t know. At this point, we can only rely on media reports. My summary of media reports is that the teacher (1) systematically (2) thought his students that (3) the Land of Israel was stolen from the Arabs, (4) Israel should not exist, (5) the IDF is immoral and commits war crimes and (6) discouraged students from enlisting in the IDF. These allegations may be factually true or false. BUT, If you ASSUME the allegations to be true, would such change your opinion on the issue? The alleged utterances of a 12-grader and any support the teacher may or may not have among certain students (whom he might have successfully indoctrinated) does NOT diminish the illegality of his alleged actions. The State Of Israel and tax payers cannot employ and pay anyone to use State powers, facilities and funds to destroy the State. Except in cases of assisted suicide, no one hires and pays his own killer. Don’t you agree?

        Reply to Comment
    6. Piotr Berman

      However specific, allegation are not proofs, so the testimonies and assessment of credibility is crucial. If Sabah made statements that Arabs should be thrown to the sea and Verta (Verete?) should be condemned to death as a traitor then she has a habit of making intemperate inciteful statements and is not particularly credible.

      It is know to many of us that honest testimony relating a heated discussion usually varies in numerous details and even cardinal aspects from recorded truth. And Sabah is reported to be hateful and disruptive.

      Unlike Sabah, no statement of attributed to Verta seems illegal, but he would probably be guilty of deviating from the framework of the prescribed program and disciplined, or even dismissed. But a school system would be foolish to always side with a student in case of a disagreement who said what or in what context.

      For example, it was reported that this high school is proud of its high rate of enlistment (I do not understand it really, I grew up when my peers were subject of conscription, so there was no point in “enlistment”). IDF has doctrine of “purity at arms” which allows or even demands to refuse to execute criminal orders, and those rules were specifically added in after some crimes committed by soldiers, under command, in 1956. A future soldier should be aware that he or she may get a criminal command, or latitude to commit crimes, and consider personal consequences, like total legal impunity and perhaps nightmares and other psychological problems, and consequences for his nation.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ginger Eis

        “Unlike Sabah, no statement of attributed to Verta seems illegal, but he would probably be guilty of deviating from the framework of the prescribed program and disciplined, or even dismissed. But a school system would be foolish to always side with a student in case of a disagreement who said what or in what context”.
        You have answered wisely. I would remark though that that the word “illegal” is a broad legal term and is not restricted to criminal acts (of which the teacher has committed none). All actions and omissions that (a) conflict with one’s legal- or contractual obligations (including obligations not explicitly mentioned in law/contract but must be interpreted as an inherent component of that which is explicitly stated), or (b) are tortious, are not legal (and thus illegal). The illegality of an action is a “conditio sine non qua” for punishment. Without illegality there can be no legal basis for punishment. If (and I mean IF) the teacher – at least – systematically, intentionally, “deviated from the framework of the prescribed program” (and thought his students something he knew/must have known that his employer would not approve of), that would be a serious breach of contract and as such illegal. Thus the fate of the teacher will ultimately depend on (1) what is proven in Court (should the case make it the Courts), (2) if that which is proven is illegal, and (3) the weight the Court attaches to that which is proven.

        Reply to Comment