Israel adds new clause to education tenders: Don’t shame the IDF

External providers of education content must promise 'not to include material that shames or humiliates the Israel Defense Forces, its soldiers, its casualties or the casualties of terror attacks'

Ministry of Education Headquarters, Jerusalem

Shira Kadari-Ovadia reports in Haaretz on 24 January 2023:

The Education Ministry has added a new condition for the operators of external school programs, which includes “a commitment not to include material that shames or humiliates the Israel Defense Forces, its soldiers, its casualties or the casualties of terror attacks.” This new condition appears in a call for bids published by the ministry on Monday, appealing to organizations wishing to join the pool of programs and educational content at the ministry. This involves a unit that was placed in the hands of Noam Chairman Avi Maoz, based on a government decision. The call for bids, however, carries the name of the ministry, not his particular unit.

In previous invitations for bids, operators had to declare that their programs did not include expressions denying Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state, as well as committing to not defining Israel’s Independence Day as a “day of mourning.” So far, there has never been a clause relating to the IDF or to fallen soldiers.

The new call also includes another category not seen before, regarding programs that touch upon Jewish identity. The explanatory notes to the new category say that “the Jewish population is based on unique values of Jewish identity,” and that the goal of new programs added to the pool would be “to develop a wide base of Jewish topics among students.” Other clauses in the call for bids were not significantly different than in earlier calls, but there are some clauses concerning digital content in the ultra-Orthodox school system, as well as clauses relating to Arab and Bedouin communities.

The coalition agreement that was signed between Likud and Noam said that the Education Ministry’s unit for external programs and the advancement of collaborations would be transferred, with its budget and manpower, to a unit headed by Maoz. This unit is responsible for issuing a comprehensive call for bids, with nongovernmental and private organizations that wish to deliver programs applying to join. The call is updated every six months. The invitation for bids includes a clause concerning educational content such as emotional, social and therapy issues.

Naomi Beyth-Zoran, the head of the education department at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said that the “addition of Jewish identity content will necessarily deprive funds from other programs which deal with democracy and education against racism, programs that are so vital these days. As with the unbridled assault against the justice system, the education system is also a tool in the hands of extremists and racists. The next step may be the exclusion of all liberal content from schools.”

The Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms said in response to the invitation for bids that “the demand not to harm the image of the army has no basis in the aims of a state education system, as defined by law. It’s difficult to know how far the Education Ministry will go with the interpretation of the terms ‘shaming and humiliation,’ which appear as new conditions. The present government is not hiding its intention of harming the freedom of expression, especially when it comes to expressing critical positions relating to the oppression of Palestinians.”

The Education Ministry said in response to a query by Haaretz that “as part of a process of drawing lessons from the previous call for bids, the ministry has decided to add to the pool of programs new sub-programs while removing sub-programs that do not meet the needs of school principals. Furthermore, programs that harm the state and the IDF will not enter the pool of external programs available to schools.”

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