The following press release was issued on 13 December 2009 by New Profile following the group’s exclusion by the Israeli Minister of Education from Israeli high school debates on civil rights:
New Profile, the feminist movement to civilize Israeli society, wrote Minister of Education Gideon Saar this morning, strongly condemning his recent instructions to prohibit its members’ participation in high school debates convened by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) on questions of human rights and freedom of expression.
New Profile wrote the minister that his act had exposed the government’s true stand on civil rights and freedom of expression, also belying the Education Ministry’s professed respect for tolerance. “The minister’s step was taken in tandem with the decision he took to send yet more military personnel into schools — a move designed to increase enthusiasm for fighting,” New Profile advised in its letter. “For over a decade now, our movement has been cautioning of the danger of ignoring the wishes of students, parents and teachers to freely and openly discuss these subjects prior to the students’ induction into the military at age 18. The Minister’s present steps increase the repression of voices seeking to frame and examine social responsibility in non-militarized terms.”
New Profile’s letter explained that “The perceptions transmitted by the present educational system generate an acceptance of warfare as a sound national strategy. They encourage veneration for the use of force and aggrandize Jewish nationalism, while devaluing the lives of Palestinians. At the same time, they sow rampant fear and dread of a new Holocaust. Ongoing endorsement of the use of force in combination with the consistent enhancement of nationalism and constantly fanned fears, maintain a state of war and, also, of severe social stratification and inequality. The military has long since become a normalized, daily aspect of Israeli education and upholds war as the apparent, sole solution to Israel’s political problems. The continuous state of warfare serves as a pretext for prolonging the military occupation and seemingly excuses the State of Israel from its accountability to the Palestinian people but also, no less, its accountability to the young Israelis that it deploys to perform the occupying, policing, destruction and terrorization.” New Profile sharply criticized the abuse of authority evident in the minister’s ban, adding that his decision silences not only New Profile but also the voice of every individual striving for a free and open civil society discourse on relations of military and society.
New Profile members, the letter added — students, sisters, fathers, educators, citizens — welcome this moment of truth in Israeli education, clearly exposing it as an instrument of suppression, silencing independent thought and free expression among principals, teachers and students, who are barred from open debate on issues affecting the individual life, health and future of each and every student. All the above are officially forbidden to ask openly just who stands to gain or lose from compulsory conscription. New Profile “stand[s] by the many educators, parents and youngsters who are seriously troubled by the fact that 18-year-old boys and girls have been conscripted, for 60 years now, into years of near-forced labor, with almost no remuneration and harsh working conditions, due to a decades-old decision made in very different circumstances.”
Further, the letter notes that “military obedience and civil obedience are not one and the same. The military is an inherently hierarchical system operated through military commands. To avoid blindly obeying blatantly illegal orders, those serving in the military are left to rely on universal moral values potentially imbibed from their families or civil education. Students, however, are first and foremost citizens who should be guided to independent critical thinking. How can the education system and the educators who staff it faithfully perform their responsibilities when the head of this system openly dismisses their judgment, sending army officers to instruct them in love of one’s country, measured in force and bloodshed.
“Every instance of silencing stems from fear. A steadfast, confident position, a true respect for teachers and students, would allow these to listen, to discuss, and to choose their paths from the spectrum of available options. A Minister of Education who prohibits an open discussion of military and state by the very youths he designates to perform the orders of both, in fact impairs their ability to independent and complex thinking.
“New Profile has called consistently, for the past 10 years, for a thorough revision of Israel’s system of education; we demand its transformation into a system providing a democratic and civil education, an education compatible with peace, with negotiating resolutions to conflict, rather than mobilizing for organized violence.”
New Profile expressly calls on the Minister to address this core question: Why has he denied New Profile the inalienable right of every citizen to a freely expressed opinion and why should he deny students the right to decide on the type of society they wish to live in?