Israeli security bodies have always taken an interest in what went on in Israel’s Arabic public education system. A classified Shin Bet report found in a file in the Israel State Archives (ISA) shows just how closely it watched what Arab teachers – and students – said, including in private conversations.
The Arab public education system was under strict security agency surveillance from the very early days of Israeli statehood. Surveillance and monitoring were conducted by the Military Rule (operating from 1948 to 1966), the police and members of the Shin Bet, whose reports on individual teachers often dictated who among them would get a job and who would not be admitted into the public education system. In 1950, a set of protocols was introduced to officially allow the police and the Shin Bet to perform a “reliability evaluation” before teachers were hired by the Ministry of Education. Screening teaching candidates affected primarily those who exhibited communist and/or nationalistic “tendencies.”
The practice continued in various forms for many years, as revealed in several investigative media reports on the Shin Bet’s involvement in the hiring of Palestinian education workers in Israel. In 2001, an investigative report by Haaretz revealed that the Deputy Director for Arab Education was, in fact, a Shin Bet official who had held the position for about a decade. The report also revealed that the same person served as Chairman of the Appointments Committee in the Arab education system, meaning the hiring of every teacher, school principal, or supervisor required his approval, which was given based on a security report provided by the Shin Bet. Following this story, in September 2004, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel -together with the Union of Parents of Arab Students in Israel, filed a High Court petition demanding an end to Shin Bet involvement in the hiring process of teachers, principals, and superintendents in the Arab education system. Following the petition, the state announced that the Shin Bet position of Deputy Director for Arab Education at the Ministry of Education would be eliminated, and the petition was dropped.
Still, it seems that the Shin Bet has not entirely cut itself off from Arab educational facilities. In February 2020, a petition filed by the Movement for Freedom of Information (Hebrew) revealed that then Ministry of Education Director-General Shmuel Abuab had met with Shin Bet officials in his office to discuss “Arab society.” Between March and June of 2022, the Knesset Education Committee held five discussions about “How the education system handles terrorism-supporting teachers.” In her opening statements in a meeting held in April 2022 (Hebrew), the committee chair said: “I would like to commend the Ministry of Education for contacting the Shin Bet following the [committee’s] discussions and asking for a proper procedure for issuing alerts regarding teachers who should raise red flags over calling for, supporting and taking part in hostile activity.” Notably, in addition to staff from the Ministry of Education, Attorney General’s Office and Israel Police, the meeting was also attended by the chair and spokesperson of Im Tirzu (a right-wing organization that focuses on slandering and persecuting political activists and human rights organizations). The next three committee meetings on this subject were classified, and the transcripts were never published. Adalah contacted the Ministry of Education, demanding the transcripts of the meeting between the ministry’s director-general and the head of the Shin Bet to discuss the formulation of the procedure.