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Education minister cautions Tel Aviv headmaster over calls to evade IDF service

"If Degani is found to encourage [draft] refusal or evasion, he will be dealt with," said Minister Yoav Kisch.

The Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium in Tel Aviv. Photo by Avishai Teiche via Wikimedia Commons.
The Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium in Tel Aviv. Photo by Avishai Teiche via Wikimedia Commons.

Israeli Education Minister Yoav Kisch on Thursday vowed to “deal with” Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium headmaster Ze’ev Degani if the historic Tel Aviv high school continues to encourage students to evade service in the Israel Defense Forces.

“In the education system, also within the state education [system], there’s a very wide range and variety of opinions. On the one hand, there are worldviews like those of Ze’ev Degani; they are on the extreme progressive left, and in contrast, [there are] people who are on the conservative side of the map,” Kisch told Makor Rishon.

“The system needs to know how to live in this wide spectrum. I am not here to dictate one or the other position,” said the minister, while warning that “if Degani is found to encourage [draft] refusal or evasion, he will be dealt with.”

On Sunday, the radical left-wing Youth Against Dictatorship group, which has been rallying teenagers to refuse to serve in the IDF, is set to “take over” the Herzliya Gymnasium in protest against the government’s judicial reform effort.

“Starting in the afternoon [of Sept. 3], Youth Against Dictatorship activists will take over the Herzliya Gymnasium in Tel Aviv,” the organization announced earlier this week. “Open classes will be held on the subject of activism and social struggles, led by representatives of Breaking the Silence and residents of Sheikh Jarrah [in Jerusalem].”

Degani officially approved the event, according to a report by Israel’s Channel 14.

Among other speakers, students will hear from Saleh Diab, a violent terrorism supporter from the capital’s eastern Shimon HaTzadik/Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Diab has been arrested numerous times for assaulting Jews, most recently in June on suspicion of attacking Shabbat worshippers with an iron rod. In 2014, he served eight months in prison for aggravated assault on a Jewish neighbor.

Responding to a question from Israel National News on Tuesday, the Education Ministry said it would “check the complaints and the facts” and take action “in accordance with the legal means at its disposal.”

“There are instances where we draw a line,” Kisch told Makor Rishon on Thursday. “Where? The Palestinian-Israeli Parents Circle-Families Forum, for example.”

On Aug. 2, the Education Ministry announced it would ban the NGO from conducting programs in public schools over allegations it whitewashes terrorism.

Kisch stated in his decision on the matter, “Any comparison of the grief over fallen IDF soldiers and victims of terrorist attacks with the grief over those harmed in defensive IDF activities while protecting the State of Israel is unacceptable and does not fit with the values promoted by the Education Ministry.”

Degani subsequently invited the Parents Circle to speak at the Herzliya Gymnasium, Israel’s Kan News public broadcaster reported this week. The meeting is expected to take place on the afternoon of Sept. 4.

The Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium was founded in 1905 as the first Hebrew high school in what was then Ottoman-controlled Palestine. Degani, who has headed the institution for the past 15 years, has clashed with successive right-wing governments in Jerusalem.

In 2016, Degani invited members of Breaking the Silence to speak with students, defying calls from the Education Ministry to cancel the lecture. He also stopped sending delegations from his school on state-sponsored trips to the Auschwitz extermination camp, claiming they contributed to a “process of fascisization taking over politics in this country.”

Herzliya Gymnasium graduate Lt. Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, a former IDF chief of staff who went on to become the Jewish state’s foreign minister in a short-lived unity government in 2020-2021, has said that he is “ashamed” of his alma mater.

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