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An Israeli teacher's Facebook posts supporting Palestinian rights led to his firing

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Since the October 7 attacks and Israel's military response, only a minority of Israeli Jews have protested their government's actions in Gaza. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports on the price paid by one person who objects.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTSTEPS CLIMBING STAIRS)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: We climbed the stairs to Meir Baruchin's spartan fifth-floor apartment in Jerusalem. He has taught high-school history and civics for the last 35 years in Petah Tikva, a northern suburb of Tel Aviv.

MEIR BARUCHIN: Can I get you anything to drink? Something?

BEARDSLEY: In November, he was fired from his job - not for what he was teaching in class, but for what he was writing on Facebook. Baruchin says he was simply trying to humanize Palestinians.

BARUCHIN: For more than 10 years, I have a very active Facebook page. I'm posting about the Palestinians. For most Israelis, if you say Palestinian, they automatically think terrorists. They have no name, no face, no family, no hope, no plans - nothing.

BEARDSLEY: He tries to expose his students to different viewpoints. As there is no one to represent the Palestinian side, he takes it. He says, at first, they're uncomfortable.

BARUCHIN: But as time goes by, they get to know me, and they learn that I'm not so dangerous. And a beautiful dialogue is being developed - a dialogue that stays with them for years after they graduate.

BEARDSLEY: The change to Baruchin's world was fast and furious after the Hamas attack on Israel last October 7 that killed at least 1,200 people. He was arrested, charged with intention to commit treason and interrogated over his Facebook posts.

BARUCHIN: The minute I walked into the police station, they cuffed my hands and legs and confiscated my phone. Five detectives escorted me here to this apartment and ransacked the place upside-down, top to bottom.

BEARDSLEY: Baruchin has documented everything.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARUCHIN: This living room.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: He shows me a video taken with a friend as they later went through his ransacked apartment.

That same day, at his hearing, a few supporters outside the courthouse were manhandled and thrown to the ground by police. He shows me another video.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Shouting in non-English language).

BARUCHIN: He's 75 years old.

BEARDSLEY: A judge ruled that Baruchin's Facebook posts in support of Palestinian rights justified keeping him in solitary confinement. He spent four days as a high-risk detainee. He couldn't bring a change of clothes or even a book. The wardens weren't allowed to speak to him.

BARUCHIN: I was completely isolated from every cycle of my life.

BEARDSLEY: When he was released, the 62-year-old teacher sued the municipality and the Ministry of Education. He won and returned to school. He says that's when the school led a campaign to delegitimize him with teachers, students and parents.

(CROSSTALK)

BEARDSLEY: In yet another video, students surround him, spit, curse and wish death upon him.

BARUCHIN: I wish you cancer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Shouting in non-English language).

BEARDSLEY: Baruchin says the students weren't his, but from lower grades, excused from class and encouraged to abuse him. He hasn't returned since. He says he's gotten hundreds of letters of support from teachers around the country but says they are afraid to speak out publicly.

NOA SATTATH: Every time there's a round of fighting, there is a crackdown on freedom of expression.

BEARDSLEY: That's Noa Sattath, executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. She says the crackdown on domestic dissent this time has been unprecedented.

SATTATH: Teachers, school principals who have expressed either disagreement with the government before the war or any type of anti-war empathy towards Gazans.

BEARDSLEY: Baruchin says he hates Hamas. He, too, served in the army and fought in Israel's incursion into Lebanon in 1982. But he says now, like then, the army has no long-term strategy. Baruchin's own children are currently serving.

BARUCHIN: My children are proud of me, and that's the most important thing for me - although they don't share all my views.

BEARDSLEY: The municipality is appealing the ruling restoring Baruchin's job. For now, he records his lessons by video and spends his days scrolling through social media to repost the devastating scenes he says Israeli media are not showing.

BARUCHIN: Cedar Hassona, 7 years old, was killed last week in Rafah, along with her mother, her twin sister and her 15-month brother. Look at her.

Nour Nayim Aliya Aboutakia, 3 years old. I'd better stop now, or I'll be in tears. And this is done also on my behalf.

BEARDSLEY: Baruchin acknowledges that too few Jewish Israelis feel like he does, but he says he will not remain silent.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.
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