TEL AVIV: Israel’s education minister says he is banning groups that call Israel an apartheid state from lecturing at schools — a move that targets one of the country’s leading human rights groups after it began describing both Israel and its control of the Palestinian territories as a single apartheid system.

The explosive term, long seen as taboo and mostly used by the country’s harshest critics, is vehemently rejected by Israel’s leaders and many ordinary Israelis.

Education Minister Yoav Galant tweeted late on Sunday that he had instructed the ministry’s director general to prevent the entry of organisations calling Israel an apartheid state or demeaning Israeli soldiers from lecturing at schools.

The Education Ministry under my leadership raised the banner of advancing Jewish, democratic and Zionist values and it is acting accordingly, he said. It was not immediately clear whether he had the authority to ban speakers from schools.

In a report released last week, the rights group BTselem said that while Palestinians live under different forms of Israeli control in the occupied West Bank, blockaded Gaza, annexed east Jerusalem and within Israel itself, they have fewer rights than Jews in the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

B’Tselem said it would not be deterred by the minister’s announcement and that despite it, the group gave a lecture on the subject via videocall to a school in the northern city of Haifa on Monday.

BTselem is determined to keep with its mission of documenting reality, analysing it, and making our findings publicly known to the Israeli public, and worldwide, it said in a statement.

Adalah, an Arab legal rights group, said it had appealed to the country’s attorney general to cancel Galant’s directive, saying it was made without the proper authority and that it was intended to silence legitimate voices.

Israel passed a law in 2018 preventing lectures or activities in schools by groups that support legal action being taken against Israeli soldiers abroad. The law was apparently drafted in response to the work of Breaking the Silence, a whistleblower group for former

Israeli soldiers who oppose policies in the occupied West Bank. It was not clear if Galant’s decree was rooted in the 2018 law.

Israel has long presented itself as a thriving democracy. Its own Arab citizens, who make up about 20 percent of its population of 9.3 million, have citizenship rights, but they often suffer from discrimination in housing and other spheres. Arab citizens of Israel have representatives in parliament, serve in government bureaucracy and work in various fields alongside Jewish Israelis.

Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2021

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