Far-right former MK Michael Ben-Ari and notorious Hebron settler Baruch Marzel hold an award ceremony for a high school student who tried to have her teacher fired for expressing “left-wing” views.
A very strange ceremony took place in the small town of Kiryat Tivon, in northern Israel on Sunday. Former Knesset member Michael Ben-Ari gave momentarily famous high-school student Sapir Sabah the “Jewish State Award” at an event attended by a variegated mix of hardline settlement leaders, followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane and anti-African refugee activists from south Tel Aviv. Outside, a group of local residents protested the ceremony, calling those inside “fascists” and shouting, ”Tivon is not Hebron.” Police stood in the middle and prevented the two sides from clashing.
The award commended Sabah for “bravely standing up for the dignity of the nation of Israel” and defending the honor of its soldiers against those “dirty pieces of debris” who seek to undermine the Jewish people’s hold on the Land of Israel. Earlier this year the 12th grader publicly denounced her civics teacher, Adam Verete, for exposing his students to “extremist left-wing views” – allegedly by questioning the Israeli army’s morality and the legitimacy of a Jewish state. Months before she herself will be drafted into the army, Sabah found those views extremely distressing and wrote a letter to the education minister. The affair might have ended there if not for the intervention of Michael Ben-Ari, who reposted the letter on Facebook and took up her cause. Ben-Ari’s campaign turned the affair into a public battle against those he accused of “poisoning the wells of the education system.”
In the ensuing nation-wide furor, the teacher almost lost his job. At the same time, the affair brought back into the spotlight Michael Ben-Ari, whose popularity has somewhat waned since his glory days of 2012. Ben-Ari was known for organizing a series of protests against African asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv which eventually resulted in a violent pogrom that saw a racist and xenophobic mob attack asylum seekers and their and shops. Some of the same people who were at the forefront of those protests stood outside the award ceremony on Sunday, shouting abuse at those who came to confront their celebration of nationalism.
The evening was a stark reminder that the hyper-nationalism usually associated with hardline West Bank settlements has a tendency to creep back into Israel proper — even to small periphery communities like Kirya Tivon. Baruch Marzel, one of the leaders of the Hebron Jewish settlement, joked during the ceremony that the same leftists who usually want him to “get out of Hebron” were outside shouting at him to go back to Hebron.