Knesset Approves ‘Breaking the Silence’ Law to Ban Leftist Groups From Schools

Booklets given out by the Breaking the Silence organization at the Alterman High School, on Dec. 18, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Knesset on Wednesday passed on its first reading a law to ban leftist groups like Breaking the Silence from sending speakers to schools. The law, proposed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, seeks to prevent “the bad influence of such groups on Israeli students,” according to text accompanying the legislation.

The law was approved by a vote of 51 MKs in favor and 17 against. During the discussion prior to the vote, Meretz MKs were thrown out of the Knesset chamber for attempting to disrupt the vote with catcalls and insults. A vote on the law’s second and third reading is likely to take place as soon as next week.

The legislation was put on a fast track after it became clear that the group was violating an administrative ban Bennett placed on the group last summer. Numerous schools reportedly hosted in recent months representatives of the group, who were permitted to speak in front of students. The presentations given by the group’s representatives reportedly discussed the IDF’s activities in Yehudah and Shomron, and Breaking the Silence’s opposition to them. Principals of the schools involved refused to comment, because they feared reprisals from Bennett.

The ban was first issued in December 2015 by Bennett. “Children are sent to educational institutions in order to reinforce mutual responsibility, and not to denigrate IDF soldiers,” the ban said, quoting Bennett. “Groups that incite against IDF soldiers, like Breaking the Silence, play into the hands of Israel’s enemies around the world when they attack the soldiers who defend us.” The language of the legislation, which passed its first reading Wednesday, is similar.

The group has also been banned from speaking at IDF bases. “If Breaking the Silence was truly worried about the morality of the IDF, they would work with us, instead of denigrating us abroad,” said former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, who instituted the ban.

Breaking the Silence is known for conducting protests in Israel and abroad against “massacres” by IDF soldiers, and has been accused of harassing individual soldiers by following them around and annoying and embarrassing them. The group has also been accused of supplying information to leftist groups abroad that seek to prosecute IDF soldiers in international court for their defensive actions against terrorists.

Commenting on the legislation, Breaking the Silence said that “Bennett’s obsession with silencing Breaking the Silence only increases the curiosity of students and soldiers to hear what the group has to say about the occupation. The law may have passed, but it will not force us to be silent.” Commenting on the ostensibly centrist Yair Lapid’s involvement in the legislation, the group said that he was “a useful idiot for the radical right as it works to destroy Israeli democracy and extend the occupation and settlements.”