By: David V
On Tuesday, February 25th, a week before the Israeli Elections to the 23rd Knesset, my high-school, Tichon Maccabim-Reut “Mor” in Modi’in hosted a meeting between The Parents Circle Families Forum and our 12th-grade students. It was met with heavy criticism from local residents and local politicians (one of two schools that were hit by heavy criticism – the other being a high-school in the coastal city of Holon).
I’ll start by talking about who, or what is the Parents-Circle Families Forum (PCFF): It is a grassroots organization of Palestinian and Israeli families who have lost immediate family members due to the on-going Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was founded by Yitzhak Frankenthal alongside other bereaved families after the death of his son, 19-year-old soldier Arik Frankenthal, who was kidnapped and killed by Hamas.
The PCFF is famous for its joint Israeli-Palestinian memorial day ceremony, which occurs annually around Israel’s memorial day, “Yom HaZikaron”. However, the PCFF has also organized “dialogue meetings” as part of its initiative, which according to them seeks: “To convey its [PCFF] message, in dialogue meetings for youth and adults, in schools, community centers and other frameworks.” According to PCFF, it has arranged almost 7,000 dialogue meetings since the program inception. Each meeting lasts 90 minutes, and includes both facilitators: a Palestinian and an Israeli – sharing their personal story and journey towards reconciliation.
Many people I’ve talked to about this situation abroad ask naively: “David, why is this controversial?”, and the truth is: I don’t even understand why.
This dialogue meeting occurs every year in my school. It has never garnered much attention from local residents and politicians before, why has it now gained the wrath of many? One theory is because of its proximity to the elections, however, I don’t think that’s solely why.
The biggest spin was articulated by my city’s Deputy Mayor, who I think It’s important to state, his position is a salaried one unlike other deputies of the mayor and members of the local council. Deputy Mayor Ilan Yair Ben-Saadon is the head of the municipal-list “Ilan For Modi’in”, a list supported by the Israeli Labor Party, and whose support has waned since its inception.
Mr Ben-Saadon is a famous/infamous figure depending on who you ask. He’s been seen as an unreliable politician for many residents following his failure to properly tackle the issue of public transportation in the municipality while holding the portfolio for it between the years of 2013-18. It is also important to mention that Mr Ben-Saadon is also on the far right of the Labor Party, putting himself closer to the Likud in all but economic policy, and in fact following the merger of the Israeli Labor Party & Meretz in the last elections, announced that he would resign his membership of the party, a statement that seems to be left in ambiguity ever since the elections.
But back to our case: Deputy Mayor Ilan wrote an infuriating public statement on Facebook concerning the situation, in which he attacked the Parents-Circle Families Forum as being no less than dangerous than another peace-NGO, “Breaking the Silence”. Ben-Saadon paints the Bereaved Families Forum as some sort of dangerous pro-terror entryist organization, who is attempting to “brainwash” the youth, and whose dialogue-meeting is unacceptable, especially if they include a Palestinian facilitator, who inherently and automatically earns the title of “terrorists” from Mr. Ben-Saadon.
Ilan’s post on Facebook featured multiple lies regarding the event that was held in my school and fell quickly into common anti-peace rhetoric. I will list a few below:
- All students were forced to attend the dialogue-meeting
- No, only 12th-graders were required to attend, and even then, they were allowed to leave if they felt uneasy.
- Phones were taken from students who attended
- Phones were not deliberately taken; rather students were asked to turn them off as they would normally during school activities or any lecture.
- There was a legitimization of a terrorist act
- There was not. PCFF does not give legitimacy to violence in any form. Due to the nature of the dialogue-meeting we are asked to understand the journey of reconciliation for the speakers, and that may include perspectives that students aren’t used to, and which may be uncomfortable.
- It was a politically-connected event by the school
- The Parents-Circle Families Forum is not a partisan, or for-profit organization, and the event was not political, unless you consider “peace” a contested political issue. It should be noted however that the school regularly invites many speakers and organizations who represent various points of view, for example. a notable figure from this years program was Miriam Peretz, a religious-zionist leader.
- These meetings are a gradual and dangerous security threat to the nation
- Are they really? I believe these meetings are more of a way to share differing perspectives regarding key issues in our public life, and as a liberal society, we must expose students to the pluralistic environment of diverse opinions surrounding the many conflicts in our lives. I cannot fathom someone being radicalized to terror because of one of these meetings.
- There are 28 Christian nations, 18 Muslim nations, and 1 Jewish nation.
- There are 15 nations who deem Christianity as the state religion and 27 nations who deem Islam as the state religion. Israel does not have a state religion, and its “Jewishness” is not defined by a religious belonging but rather an ethnic one, which makes this all-too-obvious that Ben-Saadon thinks that “Christian” is synonymous with European, and “Muslim” with Arab; a rather discriminatory idea.
In my view, it is all too saddening to see how easily influenced by populist rhetoric my city’s politicians are. How fast they will be quick to sully the reputation of one of the best secondary schools in Israel. How eager they will be to cash in a few more points for their next political campaign. However, don’t be fooled: This isn’t an isolated case, and the aforementioned school in Holon also suffered a similar fate – painting a bad light overall on most local & regional politicians in the country.
Deputy Mayor Ben-Saadon’s recent inquisition into our municipal school-system has done nothing but burn bridges, disenfranchise peace activists and organizations, and promote an echo-chamber mentality in the educational system of the city. He takes pride in making sure our system is free and safe from “infiltration” by organizations like PCFF, Breaking the Silence, and Bt’selem, and honestly as a student, I don’t feel safe with his rhetoric and crusade around.
My school did nothing wrong, they had the full support of its Parent-Association, and yet, the flammable rhetoric of a vocal few combined with the platform of the city politicians, has done nothing but put it and it’s excellent administration under heavy scrutiny, for nothing.
The start of a new decade ought to bring us forward, not backwards, and I hope it pushes us and everyone around us forward, to learn different views and perspectives, and towards greater understanding.