Knesset member threatens to ‘blow up’ Palestinian, Israeli orphans’ summer camp

Knesset members from Israel’s ruling coalition threatened to take action Monday against a boarding school called the Ben Shemen Youth Village for renting its complex to host a summer camp for the children of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families

Jewish Power Knesset member Almog Cohen said, “I’ll blow up your summer camp and shut you down, god willing.”

Cohen, a far-right lawmaker, and other coalition members threatened Ben Shemen’s management at a meeting of the Knesset Education Committee convened at their request. The lawmakers, all members of the committee, demand that the school cancel its agreement for the Israeli-Palestinian group to rent out the place for the summer. 

The Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace organization brings together families who lost their loved ones in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Among other things, members of the group speak to youth groups and schools. The group also organizes an annual alternative ceremony on Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers. Since 2003, the group has been holding summer camps for Israeli and Palestinian orphans aged 14 to 18, each time in a different location. The site chosen for this summer was Ben Shemen, located in the center of Israel. The organization had arranged to rent the site, which is empty during the summer break. 

Far-right Israeli legislators have long treated Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace as a hostile group. In 2021, then-Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir called to prevent its members from entering schools. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant decided this year to disallow Palestinians to enter Israel to participate in the alternative memorial service organized by the group.

On Tuesday, Education Minister Yoav Kisch summoned members of Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace to a hearing on its possible removal from the ministry’s list of groups authorized for external education programs. Kisch claims that the organization denigrates IDF fallen soldiers and victims of terror acts by equating them to Palestinian assailants who were killed. It the removal goes through, the organization will no longer be allowed to enter schools and speak with students. 

Speaking during the meeting of the Knesset’s Education Committee convened to discuss this issue, Likud Knesset member Hanoch Milwidsky threatened Ben Shemen director Ilana Tishler, saying that if she does not cancel the summer camp, “we will make sure to closely check the public funds that come to you.” He added, “Whoever hosts such an event should not get any state funding. [The far-right coalition is] here to stay, for a very long time. … Perhaps we don’t have the legal authority to prevent you from doing this or to force you to cancel the commercial engagement you made with this despicable body, but listen to me carefully: This government will react.”

After Milwidsky spoke, Cohen shouted at the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace organization, accusing them of honoring the memories of Palestinian terrorists. “Kamel Abu Shaheb was commemorated by this organization. Kamel Abu Shaheb is a terrorist convicted of terrorism. Check that name. You don’t care? Then I will come to your summer camp, I’ll blow up your summer camp and shut you down, God willing.”

Labor Knesset member Naama Lazimi condemned the threats. “You are promising to harm their budget. Harm youth and the youth village. This is clearly a good way for you to save funds and redirect the money to fictive ministries. This debate today is part of the loyalty regime you are trying to install here. A regime where all those not toeing the line of the narrative of the government should be persecuted with threats and canceling of budgets,” she said.

Labor Knesset member Gilad Kariv tweeted after the debate, “A ridiculous and despicable discussion at the Education Committee. Knesset member Milwidsky threatens the director of the venerable Ben Shemen Youth Village with the suspension of its budget because the village rents facilities for a summer camp of the Bereaved Families Forum during the summer vacation. Knesset member Son Har Melech insults the village director. Their goal is clear: to generate a campaign of intimidation, silencing and persecution. We will not let them do that.”

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