The Parents Circle-Families Forum:
The NGO the Netanyahu Government Is Afraid Of
by Yuval Rahamim
The removal of the Parents Circle-Families Forum’s educational programs from the Israeli Ministry of Education’s
roster of approved initiatives not only curtails exposure to differing perspectives but threatens the
very foundations of democracy and fostering peace in a new generation.
In the complex and conflicted landscape of Israel, where narratives collide and hearts ache, the Parents Circle-Families Forum (PCFF) stands as a testament to the power of shared grief, compassion, and dialogue. However, a recent decision by Israel’s Education Ministry has cast a shadow over its pivotal role in promoting peace and reconciliation among Israelis and Palestinians.
The Parents Circle-Families Forum is an organization made up of more than 700 Israeli and Palestinian bereaved families who have lost loved ones to the conflict. These families share a tragedy that transcends political and ideological boundaries. They transform their pain into a powerful force for change, advocating for dialogue, reconciliation, and peace. By sharing their personal stories of loss and transformation, these bereaved parents, siblings, children, and grandchildren bridge a divide that seems insurmountable.
One of the cornerstone initiatives of PCFF is its Dialogue Meetings program, which generally takes place in Israeli high schools. At these meetings, which have been going on for the last twenty years, bereaved Israelis and Palestinians visit classrooms, and share their stories and experiences with students who might never have encountered the “other side”. Their stories humanize the conflict, offering a perspective that goes beyond the headlines and stereotypes to which students are exposed throughout their lives. The Dialogue Meetings provide an invaluable opportunity for young minds to connect with the human faces behind the conflict, fostering empathy and opening channels for constructive conversations.
Recently, however, the Israeli Ministry of Education made a decision to exclude PCFF’s Dialogue Meetings program from the approved high school enrichment programs, delivering a disheartening blow to Israel’s democracy and the prospects for peace. This exclusion deprives students of the chance to engage directly with those who have felt the impact of the conflict most acutely. It limits exposure to narratives that differ from their own and hinders the development of critical thinking skills essential for understanding complex geopolitical and societal issues.
The banning of PCFF’s programs exacerbates an already existing problem: The decades-long lack of exposure to diverse perspectives, which perpetuates ignorance and fuels biases, leading to the formation of one-sided opinions that disregard the humanity on the other side. In a society where the echo chambers of social media and mainstream media sensationalism further isolate individuals, educational programs like PCFF’s Dialogue Meetings are critical for breaking down these barriers.
The consequences of reduced exposure to diverse perspectives extend far beyond the classroom. A generation that grows up shielded from alternative viewpoints is ill-equipped to engage in meaningful dialogue, bridge gaps, and work towards peaceful solutions. The absence of such exposure leaves a void that can easily be filled with misconceptions, stereotypes, and prejudice. In such a scenario, the cycle of animosity and mistrust continues unabated.
Other PCFF programs have faced similar challenges. This past summer, for example, the Knesset’s Education Committee threatened to take action against the venue hosting our Youth Peace Summer Camp, which brings 50 Israeli and Palestinian youth together for a week of dialogue and relationship building. One Knesset Member went so far as to threaten to physically disrupt the Israeli-Palestinian summer camp: He said he would “blow up your camp and shut it down, God willing!” The Summer Camp proceeded as usual, but with heightened security presence this year.
In addition, this past April, for the third consecutive year, the Ministry of Defense prohibited Palestinians from participating alongside Israelis in the annual Joint Memorial Day Ceremony that we organize (together with Combatants for Peace) in Tel Aviv. Thankfully, just like in the previous cases, Israel’s Supreme Court overturned the Defense Ministry decision again this year, enabling Palestinians and Israelis to collectively mourn their lost loved ones. The Joint Memorial Day Ceremony is a solemn occasion that underscores the universal nature of grief; the tears shed by a bereaved Palestinian mother are no different from those of a grieving Israeli mother.
To achieve lasting peace and reconciliation, it is essential to address the root causes of the conflict and challenge the narratives that sustain it. PCFF’s programs play a pivotal role in this process by humanizing the cost of the conflict and enabling students to see beyond the dichotomy of “us” versus “them”. By removing these programs from the approved list, the Israeli Ministry of Education is stunting the growth of a generation that could play a transformative role in shaping the future of the region.
It is imperative for the Israeli Ministry of Education to recognize the long-term ramifications of its decision. The omission of PCFF’s programs sends a distressing message that those who do not adhere to the “party line” in Israel will not be tolerated. The PCFF has appealed the Ministry’s decision and recognizes that it will likely need to take this appeal all the way to the Supreme Court.
The Parents Circle-Families Forum embodies the resilience and hope of the human spirit amidst conflict and loss. The Israeli Ministry of Education’s removal of PCFF programs from high schools is a harsh setback that could have far-reaching consequences. Exposure to diverse narratives is essential for building empathy, critical thinking, and the foundations of democracy.
Stand with the Parents Circle. Stand up for the pluralistic education Israeli youth deserve! Sign the petition (in English) to the Ministry of Education –
To learn more about the Parents Circle–Families Forum and their programming, visit their English-language website, follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and check out their YouTube channel.
Yuval Rahamim is the Israeli Co-Director of the Parents Circle–Families Forum. At 8 years old, he lost his father during the Six Day War. He once yearned for revenge but later realized its futility. Time taught him that reconciliation, not revenge, could heal his pain. In 2010, he joined the Parents Circle. He also served as the Director of the Israeli Peace NGO Forum. He lives in Tel Aviv.