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Education Ministry bars Israeli-Palestinian bereavement group from schools

The Education Ministry on Tuesday reportedly barred a grassroots organization of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families from hosting activities at schools.

According to the decision, reported by several Hebrew media outlets, the Parents Circle-Families Forum (PCFF) was in violation of new ministry rules handed down by Education Minister Yoav Kisch, which prohibits programs from disgracing the Israel Defense Forces and its soldiers.

The regulations bar the group from conducting programs at schools and receiving funding from the ministry.

“Any comparison of the grief over fallen IDF soldiers and victims of terror 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. This does serious harm to the memory of fallen IDF soldiers and terror victims,” the reported ministry decision said.

While the ministry stressed the importance of encouraging diverse opinions, it said that groups must follow state guidelines when activities concern “young students who are a ‘captive audience.'”

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PCFF brings together families who have lost loved ones in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to support one another. Many right-wingers see the group as equating the suffering of Israeli terror victims with that of Palestinians killed while committing attacks or rioting against Israeli forces.

File: Education Minister Yoav Kisch in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on March 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Education Ministry’s decision came after representatives from the group were summoned by Kisch to a hearing last month, where they apparently failed to convince officials regarding the claims against them.

“In a dictatorship, the education minister decides what is forbidden [for students] to know,” PCFF said in a statement responding to the decision. “The decision by Yoav Kisch to ban PCFF activities at schools is another act in the coup — suppression of democracy and zero acceptance of other voices,” it added, in reference to the government’s judicial overhaul legislation.

“Messianic right-wingers that made the decision not only harmed the memory of the bereaved and the right to mourn, but they seek to perpetuate the bloody conflict between the nations,” the group charged.

“Kisch wants to remove us from the public sphere, but we won’t disappear. We won’t lose hope,” the statement read.

Labor MK Gilad Kariv slammed the decision, tweeting that “Avi Maoz can take a nap. Kisch already did his work.” Maoz is the chair and sole Knesset member of the far-right, ultra-conservative Noam party, who heads an office with oversight over educational vendors in public schools.

Labor MK Naama Lazimi called the decision a “political hit with a clear message — civil society organizations are in the crosshairs.”

“Anyone who does not fit the values of the fascist government will be tried as an enemy and a traitor. Values of peace and tolerance are already out of the bounds of legitimacy for the government. This government is even trying to regiment bereavement,” she tweeted, arguing that the government was delegitimizing anyone who doesn’t agree with it while giving lip service to unity.

File The Parents Circle-Families Forum holds an event in Jaffa, October 17, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Shai Glick, chair of the right-wing group Btsalmo, welcomed what he called a “moral and ethical” decision.

“High school students, right before they enlist [to the army], are supposed to learn the values of defending the citizens of Israel and defending the homeland, not values of terror, incitement and hatred of the State of Israel and the like,” Glick’s statement said.

“In the forum, there are friends of former terrorists and relatives of terrorists, and there is no rationale for the idea that they would be wanted in schools. This isn’t harm to freedom of expression because the forum can continue to spread its poisonous doctrine, just not in schools under the proud Zionist education system,” he said.

In June, right-wing lawmakers threatened to strip funding from the Ben Shemen Youth Village over its willingness to host a joint summer camp hosted by PCFF.

Each year, the group also hosts a controversial annual commemoration on Israel’s Memorial Day, with the group Combatants for Peace. The ceremony has been deeply controversial since its inception, particularly among the Israeli public, with critics accusing it of legitimizing terrorism and equating Israel’s fallen soldiers to those who attacked them.

Supporters say it represents an effort by those who have lost the most in the conflict to give meaning to the deaths of their loved ones by turning away from violence.

The event is controversial on the Palestinian side as well: Some Palestinians say the ceremony equates Israeli soldiers and oppressed Palestinians. Others reject any dialogue with Israelis at all.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.