What Is Permissible in a School Principal | Machsomwatch
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What Is Permissible in a School Principal

Author: Nura Resh


In response to the general attack on Ram Cohen, Principal of Tichonet high school (article by Prof. Maoz in Haaretz daily newspaper of February 5, 2018)

Can patriotism be a noble attribute in our times, when instead of admitting equality and fraternity among all humans, the domination of one state or nation over all others is seen as one’s duty?... In its simplest definition, that feeling is nothing but the superiority of the nation – or the state – to any other nation or state or any other human being. Such a feeling might be very desirable and beneficial for the government and the unity of the state, but we must admit that this feeling is not noble at all -.quite the contrary, highly unjust and immoral.

Thus Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy in his “On Patriotism”. He died in 1910, and apparently long enough ago for his comments on noble or ignoble feelings to be forgotten.

Ram Cohen founded Tichonet high school a few years ago (5, 6?) and is indeed its principal to this day. Prior to that, he directed Municipal High School A for some years (7, 8?) and I still recall how – in our School of Education in the Hebrew University, Jerusalem – he was cited as exemplary: people spoke of a certain Ram, principal of an elementary school (Yarden, I believe it was) who had “worked wonders” with his “problematic” pupils. Namely, his school children reached scholastic achievements and showed perseverance way beyond the expected of such pupils… This was my entry-model for a field that became highly popular in the 1970s-80s: the principal as an educational leader, as one of the main factors of effective schooling.

Maoz’ article confuses Ram Cohen, Principal of Tichonet with Ram Cohen, Principal of Municipal High School A, confronted by a student’s father who knows and attests to what “most of the students don’t like about the principal’s bringing in his own political tendencies”… etc., and that the school is used by the principal as a “political springboard”… And now, wonder of wonders, the same man continues to direct a high school and to see his calling as an educator. Interestingly, both of these schools have very long waiting lines of potential students hoping to be accepted there after a selection process (of which I personally am not in favor, but that is not the issue here).

These are of course trivia. The important matter is what the principal tells his students and how this is represented by the honorable Professor Maoz. For full disclosure, I must admit I was not present at the lecture (or lectures) and rely on quotes that appeared in the said article (by the way, was Professor Maoz present at this lecture and are these precise quotations?). According to Prof. Maoz, Cohen is conducting political indoctrination at his school: he airs his own “unpatriotic” views loud and clear, invites representatives of “Breaking the Silence” to speak at the school (as you know, men and women combat soldiers who testify to injustices they committed during their military service) – well, clearly, traitors who defame us… At some point he suggested that teachers at the school join a tour of the West Bank held by Machsomwatch (an organization of women, mostly elderly, who monitor Israel’s military checkpoints inside the West Bank, military courts, and post testimonies on what they see and hear there) – well, clearly a radical organization of Israel-haters… He even thinks that the students would benefit from developing their own critical sense, even if the object of criticism is the State of Israel. This is not so: “I call upon sane educators… to overtly say to their students that the occupation is damned… and to educate by values that do not trample others: (naturally I don’t know what those three dots in the article contained originally) – well, clearly this is a call to civil obedience, and civil disobedience is a crime, or at least an insane and unpatriotic act in a democratic state. Finally, Ahed Tamimi is mentioned – the girl who dared slap an Israeli army officer, who judging by his restrained non-reaction should perhaps also be excluded from the herd of normative Israelis (and I have already been exposed to such shameful comments in unmentionable terms on Facebook). In my advanced age I recall how, as a girl, much younger than Ahed, I did everything in my power to drive the British Mandate soldiers in Palestine (“Anemones”) crazy, as they positioned themselves in the local schoolyard in Haifa during the curfew that was occasionally imposed on us civilians (we lived two houses from the school). Clearly I was defined by the occupiers as “a little terrorist”. In my own view and that of my schoolmates, we were taking part in the struggle against that occupier. I suppose that what I did back then, in today’s reality, would find me shot to death by the soldiers in the middle of Pevsner Street…

Ram Cohen is merely an allegory. There are other school principals who hold “dangerous” views on the meaning of education, civil patriotism, and the importance of critical thinking for the existence and development of a democratic society. Some of them even express these views, and some are quite concerned about what is now happening in the State of Israel, but are cautious about crying these views out loud. In a different context, but not entirely unconnected, 66 school principals and 190 educators have signed petitions lately, calling to back off from the recent government decision to deport refugees and asylum seekers. Many of the 1000 physicians and many hundreds of academics who did so are educators, so one should consider what is to be done about them (perhaps their public declaration is also a call for civil disobedience)…