Op-Ed: From the Hebrew Press: McCarthyism, Made in Israel

A well known, respected Israeli publicist weighs in on the public controversy over a civics teacher who expressed radical leftist views in class and mocked a student who disagreed with him. (Slightly abridged.)
Published: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 12:22 PM


An Israeli newspaper recently called for the firing of a lecturer whose opinions were opposed to its own. That very same newspaper, Haaretz, is now conducting a campaign against the right of a school administration to investigate a complaint filed by one of its students. This newspaper, infected by racism, contributes more than any other entity to the demonization of Israel.

A civics teacher, Adam Verete,  has been honored by this newspaper to an extent that no other public figure seems to ever have attained. He was actually the subject of two editorials in one week.

Readers around the globe who are interested in Israel and whose mother tongue is English, are convinced that this uproar is the most terrible issue in our history, another proof of moral degeneration, another stop on the road to fascism and McCarthyism.

What is the reason the civics teacher deserved two editorials? It's like this: a high school student wrote an open letter to the Minister of Education in which she described what goes on in Verete's civics classes. The teacher was summoned to a hearing. This was the signal for an endless series of op-eds and articles. Anyone who reads only that one newspaper would be sure that the teacher is the victim of a witch hunt.

On one side, [in the Haaretz portrayal], stands a liberal teacher with progressive ideas. Against him stands a repressive and dark educational establishment. The editorials reflected this analysis. The first was titled "Educating for Witch Hunts". The second's title  was "Piron's Test" (Piron is the the Education Minister) and it included an ultimatum calling for the minister's intervention. The many articles published by that paper on the issue expressed one opinion only. But the real problem is with the facts that the newspaper provided its readers.

The student complained both about  Verete's statements – he is obviously on the extreme fringes of the radical left – and about the fact that when she expressed views that conflict with his own, the teacher claimed that "she wants to kill all the Arabs" – something she hotly denies. He also continued, in her words, "to humiliate me and insult me in front of the class for the rest of the period".  She complained that "when I turned to the administration about what happened, there were several  discussions, during one of which one of the persons present admitted laughing at my words and even apologized for it."

And what did the newspaper explain in its series of articles, including the editorials? That  summoning [the teacher] for a hearing is "persecution". Huh? A hearing is meant to make matters clear. Why does the newspaper feel that the complaint, pointing out repeated behavior of that nature by the teacher, should have been ignored? It is possible that the student lied or that she told the truth. In the hearing that did take place, it turned out that a good part of the student's complaints are true . And in any case, even had it become clear that Verete is as white as snow, doesn't the administration have the right to call a hearing?

Then there is a problem with the story itself. Are teachers in a religious school allowed to claim that the IDF are Nazis because they carried out the "disengragement"? Are teachers allowed to encourage refusal to obey orders in the IDF [as this teacher did], encourage conscientious objectors? Does telling students that the entire country belongs to the Palestinian Arabs,[as this teacher did], fall within the limits of "critical and challenging thought"? 

And just who can censor? A student who lodges a complaint? The Minister of Education who investigates the complaint? A school that takes the trouble to check out the complaint? A newspaper that runs a campaign aimed at preventing an investigation, in order allow political incitement in an educational setting?

If that Verete were my children's teacher, I would use my right to protest and stand outside the school handing out fact sheets to the students. I have been invited to address students in the past and I always presented  information that included various sides of an issue. Just information. Not opinions. Most of the students were shocked that they do not usually get that information. In the name of "openness" they receive, from a certain ilk of teachers, an overdose of skewed and partial information, the usual excuse being "encouraging critical thinking."

And the facts? Yuck. The students have no idea, for example, that in the 1940's, population transfer was the norm. They have no idea of the Arab leadership's continuous proclamations of intent to destroy the fledgling state of Israel at the time. They have not a clue about the pogroms and persecution that Jews suffered in Arab lands.

But the liberal education system includes teachers like Verete, who goes out to demonstrate with those who hold placards saying "Viva Palestine" and recycle the usual lies about Israel. For the sake of "critical thinking", of course.

On the other hand, I would protest against firing a teacher because of his views, as long as he allows fair and broad presentation of facts and opinions.

And on the other hand, one needn't go overboard either. French education is not known for presenting the German "narrative" in its schools. So with all due honor to the "narrative" of Jerusalem Mufti Haj Amin El Husseini, it is incumbent upon teachers to present the fact that this most prominent Palestinian Arab leader (in the 1940's, ed.) was a supporter of the Final Solution for the Jews and identified with Hitler.

Did Verete tell his students about the Mufti and his doctrine, and his responsibility for the Naqba? Did he tell them about the repeated calls to destroy the Jewish people? Do the students know that the IDF has the best record of any army engaged in similar conflicts for avoiding civilian casualties? Or is all this not part of "freedom of speech"?

Selective Protest

The protests over the Verete issue are not being held in order to broaden the knowledge of the students or protect free speech, because the protests are selective. A decade ago, a witch hunt of at least double the intensity was launched against another teacher, Israel Shiran, for his reservations about teaching Rabin's legacy. Yuli Tamir was Minister of Education and the verbal barbs emanating from that office against Shiran were frightening. "You are Satan's defender…this blasted inciter, will not be allowed into any school, even as a sanitation worker."  

He was fired, but appealed and was reinstated. They kept after him for years and he once again turned to the courts and won the case. This was persecution. This was McCarthyism.

Shiran got no support [from the msm], didn't even dream of an editorial, certainly not two of them. He was, after all, a rightist. And this [lack of msm interest] was not unusual, but in keeping with tradition. The former Education Ministry Civics supervisor was fired because she was a "settler".  Did the newspaper protest?  When Adar Cohen [an avowed leftist] who took over her position, reached the period for renewing his contract, the entire elite began flooding readers with articles about non-existent "persecution".

Once in a while there are calls to fire a teacher because of his opinions. There are attempts to stifle free speech. A few instructors at Tel Aviv University felt that Israel commits war crimes. A professor who was approached about a teaching position felt that this claim was false. The faculty dean was against punishing anyone for their opinions, but one newspaper – you guessed it – Haaretz, wrote in an editorial that the dean "is wrong in using demagogic reasoning that opines that it is better to expose students to varied opinions and outlooks, as long as they are within legal confines" and came out against hiring the lecturer, becoming the only newspaper to call for repressing free speech.

And the following is a story that I feel I must reveal for the first time. The night before that editorial was published, Professor Ze'ev Segal, z"l, a man of integrity who was then the legal analyst for Haaretz, phoned to tell me that an editorial about this lecturer was going to appear. "It is important to me that you know that not only did I not write it, but that I disagree with it", he said. I knew Segal's views and would never have suspected him for a moment, but it was important to him. There were and still are people of integrity on that newspaper's staff, but their voices are barely heard.

And this newspaper, that called for blackballing a professor, lectures the rest of us about ethics and morality, while branding others with McCarthyism. Unbelievable.

The civics teacher was not fired. He was called to appear at a hearing. All in the realm of accepted practice. But to Hell with the facts. They did not prevent a columnist in Haaretz from writing an article that was all refined venom, from spewing fantasy, racism and hate.

He compared Verete to Alfred Dreyfus. Dreyfus? A summons for a hearing is equivalent to the Dreyfus Affair? Have you lost your minds? In the Dreyfus Affiar, one must recall, the legal system joined the anti-Semites. In Israel, in contrast, there was once an attempt to fire a rightist extremist, Shaib Eldad, from his teaching job in 1950, but the Supreme Court would not allow it.  Even the would-be Tel Aviv lecturer, panned by Haaretz, is not Dreyfus. Yet the hand that wrote that Israel's educational system is the same as French anti-Semitism did not tremble.

This did not satisfy yon columnist, and he immediately passed on to the unconventional weapon that uses the expression "Judeo-Nazis", to describe the rightists who came out against the civics teacher. There are many ways to trivialize the Holocaust, but there is no doubt that Haaretz leads the assault.

This columnist surpassed himself by informing readers that the new "Dreyfus" comes from a distinguished family of early Zionists, while he will refrain from describing the "family climate that spawned Sapir Sabach (the student who filed the complaint, who has a Sephardic last name, ed.) What climate? What does he know? What dark secrets does this family hide? Why hint without telling the public?

The answer is all too clear. There is nothing to know, the family's name will do. On the one side, a family of aristocrats, and on the other,- well, no use explaining. We got the idea. Prejudice? Heaven forfend. Why this is the newspaper that constantly invents apartheid and racism and war crimes about everyone else.

Haaretz is the a most widely read English newspaper and readers abroad have been privileged to receive another portion of anti-Israel venom, all of it skewed and misleading. A student complained of humiiation, a teacher was called in for a hearing. Just a hearing.

And Israel once again was turned into a dark and racist, fascist leper.

Israel is far from a perfect state. She makes mistakes. Her educational system sometimes deserves to be criticized. But sometimes, before shooting off all the cannons, before fascism, McCarthyism, Dreyfus and Nazis, it might be a good idea to pop a few tranquilizers.

Translated with the author's permission from the Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky

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