The Israeli Knesset has passed a bill banning whistleblowing organisation Breaking the Silence from attending schools, in a bid to clamp down on critics of the military, with detractors hailing the move as a blow to freedom of speech in the country.
The bill, passed last night with a majority of 43 to 24, will prevent lectures and activities at local schools that are organised by groups arguing for legal action to be taken against the military for its crimes against the Palestinian population. A last minute addition by Israeli MK Amir Ohana also stipulated that the law should apply to those promoting political proceedings against Israel, such as human rights watchdog B’Tselem which has expressed support for economic sanctions against Israel.
The law has been dubbed the Breaking the Silence bill, due to its perceived targeting of the organisation, which collects testimonies of former Israeli soldiers and the operations they were instructed to carry out in the occupied territories.
However, the group’s representative said earlier this morning that the legislation would not fully apply to them as they are not calling for Israeli troops to be indicted in foreign courts.
The bill was supported by Education Minister Naftali Bennet, who welcomed the development as important to the education of future generations.
“The reality in which organisations that undermine the legitimacy of the State of Israel and slander IDF [Israeli] soldiers will get to school children has ended today. Breaking the Silence crossed the line a long time ago of legitimate dialogue when they chose to slander the State of Israel in the international arena,” Naftali told parliamentarians.
However, the proposal did not enjoy unanimous support, with Zionist Union MK Shelly Yachimovich calling the initiators of the law “cowards” for refusing to allow students to be exposed to different points of view. Tamar Zandberg, leader of the left-wing Meretz party, also tweeted her support for the group.
“Breaking the Silence is not against IDF soldiers. Breaking the Silence *are* IDF soldiers. IDF soldiers who return from the territories and tells us the reality of military rule. Instead of closing our eyes and hoping the reality will disappear, we need to simply end the occupation,” she wrote.
The response has also been mixed amongst the Israeli public, with Ram Cohen, a headmaster at Tel Aviv’s Tichonet high school which hosted Breaking the Silence at the school last year, telling reporters that planned to invite the group again, even if it meant breaching the law.
“As a principal, as an educator, it is my duty to stand up and say—no more,” Cohen said. “These laws are meant to harm democracy. I shall not be a part of it. I do not agree with it and I shall object to it.”
Palestinian representatives of the Knesset have also previously slammed the measure as another initiative by Israel to normalise the occupation and to advance “creeping annexation” over the West Bank.
Israel has attempted to limit the activities of its critics on many occasions, including a proposed ban on Breaking the Silence conducting occupation tours in the city of Hebron.
Last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would not meet with foreign dignitaries who also meet with representatives of the group, and cancelled a meeting with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel after he chose to visit the organisation.