PHOTOS: Rightists award student who persecuted ‘left-wing’ teacher

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.

The “Jewish State award” given to Sapir Sabah at a ceremony organized by nationalist former MK Michael Ben-Ari, Kiryat Tivon, February 9, 2014. (Activestills.org)
The “Jewish State award” given to Sapir Sabah at a ceremony organized by nationalist former MK Michael Ben-Ari, Kiryat Tivon, February 9, 2014. (Activestills.org)

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.”

Sapir Sabah receives the “Jewish State” award, during a ceremony organized by  former MK Michael Ben-Ari , Kiryat Tivon, February 9, 2014. (Activestills.org)
Sapir Sabah receives the “Jewish State” award, during a ceremony organized by  former MK Michael Ben-Ari , Kiryat Tivon, February 9, 2014. (Activestills.org)
Followers of Michael Ben-Ari shout violent threats at Kiryat Tivon residents, as they protest against the award ceremony for Sapir Sabah, Kiryat Tivon, February 9, 2014. (Activestills.org)
Followers of Michael Ben-Ari shout violent threats at Kiryat Tivon residents, as they protest against the award ceremony for Sapir Sabah, Kiryat Tivon, February 9, 2014. (Activestills.org)
Kiryat Tivon residents protest against the award ceremony for Sapir Tivon organized by former MK Michael Ben-Ari and his followers, Kiryat Tivon, Israel, February 9, 2014. (Activestills.org)
Kiryat Tivon residents protest against the award ceremony for Sapir Tivon organized by former MK Michael Ben-Ari and his followers, Kiryat Tivon, Israel, February 9, 2014. (Activestills.org)

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.

Kiryat Tivon residents sing Israeli songs during a counter-protest against an award ceremony for Sapir Tivon organized by former MK Michael Ben-Ari and his followers, Kiryat Tivon, Israel, February 9, 2014. (Activestills.org)
Kiryat Tivon residents sing Israeli songs during a counter-protest against an award ceremony for Sapir Tivon organized by former MK Michael Ben-Ari and his followers, Kiryat Tivon, Israel, February 9, 2014. (Activestills.org)
A follower of Michael Ben-Ari and Baruch Marzel being detained by police after throwing a bottle at Kiryat Tivon residents, who were protesting against the award ceremony for Sapir Sabah, Kiryat Tivon, Israel, February 9, 2014. (Activestills.org)
A follower of Michael Ben-Ari and Baruch Marzel being detained by police after throwing a bottle at Kiryat Tivon residents, who were protesting against the award ceremony for Sapir Sabah, Kiryat Tivon, Israel, February 9, 2014. (Activestills.org)
Baruch Marzel speaking during the ceremony, Kiryat Tivon, Israel, February 9, 2014. (Activestills.org)
Baruch Marzel speaking during the ceremony, Kiryat Tivon, Israel, February 9, 2014. (Activestills.org)

Related:
On the Adam Verete affair and anti-democratic trends: Three notes
Embattled teacher compared to Dreyfus
Student’s ‘political persecution’ of teacher reaches national stage