On Wednesday Febuary 18, a pre-election political panel with party representatives and a student fair featuring party booths and activists was held at the Hanna Mavis Comprehensive School in Rameh, an Arab town in the north of Israel. This was the first such event ever to take place in a state-run Arabic-language school in Israel. When management of the high school sought permission from the Ministry of Education to conduct the panel and fair, the authorities initially objected, even though such events are routinely held in Jewish schools. In the end, the ministry relented, but the school, in which Druze, Muslim, and Christian high-schoolers study, was subject to restrictions which are generally not enforced in Jewish schools.
According to the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, sources in the school and the local council say that officials in the offices of the Ministry of Education’s Northern District had at first opposed holding any kind of pre-election event at the school, arguing that it was liable to cause provocations and incite the students. However, subsequently district director Orna Simhon withdrew her objection to holding a panel discussion, but refused to allow the school to hold a fair, for fear that it would violate either the director general’s instructions which set limits on political discourse in schools or the law which forbids political propaganda in schools. The Ministry of Education inspector for the school actually spoke before the panel discussion, reading aloud the relevant paragraphs from the instructions and warned against political propaganda. The students were also prohibited from wearing shirts with the logos of any political party, hanging party posters, or distributing party materials. While such activities do indeed seem to violate the law and the director general’s instructions, Jewish schools often hold “happenings” with booths, posters, activists, and party pamphlets. Members of the various parties have visited dozens, if not hundreds of schools in recent weeks, meeting no objections or restrictions from the Ministry of Education. Only last week, the Yesh Atid party unveiled its educational platform at the Blich High School in Ramat Gan.
All the major parties were invited to send representatives to the panel discussion in Rameh, which was organized with the help of the Abraham Fund. United Torah Judaism and Habayit Hayehudi did not send a delegate, while the Likud representative cancelled at the last minute and the Kulanu representative, Akram Hasson (No. 12 on its slate), ended up sending an aide, Salam Hir, in his place. The Joint List sent two representatives, Aida Touma-Sliman (No. 5) and Basel Ghattas (No. 11), Shas sent David Azoulay (No. 5), and Meretz sent Mossi Raz (No. 6). The other parties sent relatively unknown, Arabic-speaking candidates positioned in unrealistic or borderline spots on their respective lists, like Salah Sa’ad, No. 26 on the Zionist Union slate.
Following the panel, mock elections were conducted in which 219 of the school’s 341 11th and 12th graders participated. The results were somewhat surprising: as expected, the Joint List came in first with 40.5% of the vote, but the Likud came in second with 10.5%. The other lists finished as follows: Zionist Union (8 %), Yesh Atid (7.5%), Kulanu (5.5%), Yisrael Beiteinu (5 %), Shas (4%), and Meretz (2%). Eli Yishai’s Yahad got 1% of the votes while Habayit Hayehudi received 0.5%.
Israeli Arab schools face serious restraints in pre-election activities