Israeli teens came to educate - but got a lesson they didn't expect


Teenagers visiting Britain to promote Israel's cause in schools found themselves in the firing line when a teacher launched a verbal attack on them in front of stunned pupils.

Yishai Binnes, 18, and three friends got more than they bargained for shortly after stepping off the plane and arriving at an East London school with a high Muslim population.

In what was their first of many visits to schools up and down the country, one teacher appeared to take exception to their positive message.

"It was a baptism of fire," said Yishal, who delayed his army duty for the tour. "The teacher got more and more heated, at one point screaming at us that we murder children. The kids were shocked by a grown man who was yelling at teenagers."

Idan Fast, a student at Tel Aviv University, added: "There was a lot of hostility. The teacher started shouting at us that our army targets innocent children. I was afraid."

Ayelet Ekstein, 17, who has competed in a world debating championship in Qatar, was more positive.

"After the talk, a Muslim girl in a headscarf came up to me and said she had never heard the point of view of the Israeli side to the conflict, and she was glad we came to speak to them," she said.

"Most people don't have a negative opinion about Israel. I divide the people in the UK in two: those who don't know anything about the conflict, and those who are pro-Palestinian."

For several years the Friends of Israel Educational Foundation has been bringing young Israelis to the UK. Its director, John Levy, has no fears for the speakers, selecting them, as he does, with the help of the Israeli Debating Society.

"They handled it extremely well. They have broad shoulders and they come into it expecting tough questions. In fact, they expected a lot more opposition than they got," he said.

"The first school was a bit of a shock, but afterwards we relaxed. Most people were really welcoming and warm."

The group, which also included Tamar Perechodnik, 17, faced serious questions on many topics during their tour of London, Manchester, Birmingham and Cardiff. They ranged from the legal drinking age to whether they used iPhones and why they welcomed national service.

But Yishai said: "We couldn't believe it when we were asked if we rode to school on camels, and if there were roads in Israel. There was a collective gasp when we showed one class a picture of Tel Aviv."

Idan added: "Israel is making a strategic mistake. The main front is not where they're shooting bullets, but the media. The PR battle is the major front. That's why I was excited to come here. As young people we have an advantage, we're speaking peer-to-peer, on eye level, telling the kids about our personal experience growing up in Israel.

"With all due respect to British education, most of the kids were uninformed to the point of ignorance."

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