The Knesset Education Committee met on Tuesday to discuss a report from last month on a secret recording of a December 2015 meeting between former Foreign Ministry director-general and ambassador to South Africa Alon Liel and activists from Breaking the Silence, which collects testimony from former IDF soldiers claiming Israel committed war crimes.
Liel serves as the chairman of the board of Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium in Tel Aviv, the first Hebrew high school in Israel, founded in 1905.
In the recording, Liel encouraged the activists to continue their efforts to increase international pressure on Israel to get it to ”end the occupation.” He said it is easier to fight Israel via the UN and the EU, and said Breaking the Silence could lead to Israel being kicked out of the UN, like South Africa was from 1974 until it became a democracy in 1994.
According to Liel, international pressure is necessary because ”The political system is lost,” and Breaking the Silence is supported by ”the most moral, wisest people who… were not brainwashed by right-wing messianic propaganda.”
Committee Chairman Yakov Margi
MK Miki Zohar (Likud), who initiated the debate, said ”Freedom of speech is not freedom of incitement. It is unthinkable that a person who slanders our country wherever he can is responsible for our high school students. What values will Liel teach those students? Love for our homeland?”
Zohar tried to play a video of Liel, but he was interrupted by Meretz MKs who claimed that it is inappropriate to play something without knowing who edited it. Members of the board of the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, including Liel, were invited to the meeting but did not attend.
Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon said ”Alon Liel did not meet with Breaking the Silence in his capacity as the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium chairman.” His opinions, she added, ”are known throughout the world, and he is allowed to criticize the government’s policies in Israel and abroad.”
MK Oded Forer (Yisrael Beitenu) claimed that Liel had thwarted Dani Dayan`s appointment as ambassador to Brazil due to his political opinions and place of residence. Dayan is the former chairman of the Yesha Council. ”This is the real apartheid, not the apartheid Liel speaks of during his lectures abroad,” Forer said. ”Liel only follows the rules when he is winning. When a person says what Liel says, he cannot stand at the head an educational institution. If he wants to state his opinions, he will have to pay the price.”
MK Ilan Gilon of Meretz defended Liel`s right to speak his mind, and said ”This meeting is a waste of time, because you are vilifying a man who is full of patriotism and love for the country.”
Responding to Forer`s remarks, Meretz MK Michal Rozin said ”Liel believes it is the Zionist interest of the State of Israel to end the occupation. The Yesha Council has on its payroll advisors in Europe and the United States to do its lobbying, and that is okay because it corresponds with your worldview, but when we want to say that your worldview harms the State of Israel – then it is not legitimate in your eyes. Your friend [Deputy Foreign Minister] Tzipi Hotovely is harming the State of Israel`s security much more than Liel has. No one should be fired because of his political opinions. Let’s stop this very slippery slope.”
Committee Chairman Yakov Margi (Shas) read from a letter sent to the committee by Tomer Cohen, a member of Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium`s executive committee. ”I regret the fact that the Education Committee is being exploited as a tool for political censuring and for restricting freedom of expression and thought.”
Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv Arnon Giladi said he had turned to the Education Ministry in order to promote Liel`s dismissal, but was told that the ministry does not deal with such matters.
”Every citizen has the right to express his opinions, but someone who is in a public system and heads an educational institution in Israel should be extra-careful,” he said.
Im Tirtzu CEO Alon Schvartzer told the committee that ”radicals from both sides – right and left – are trying to erase the State of Israel`s identities. Anti-Zionist leftists such as Liel are trying to turn the State of Israel into a country of all its citizens and erase the Jewish element in the state`s definition. By doing so, they also trump the democratic element.” He requested that the committee ask the attorney general to examine Liel`s activities and the possibility of prosecuting him.
The Foreign Ministry`s representative at the meeting stressed that its employees are civil servants, and ”those who do not agree with the state`s position resign.”
Committee Chairman Margi concluded the meeting by saying ”I reject the accusation that there is an attempt to hound this person or that person. The Education Committee is discussing the issue because Liel is a member of the board of an educational institution.”