In 2014, Adam Verete, a high school teacher who taught philosophy and Jewish thought near Haifa, posed the following question to his class of 12th graders: “Israel says that it has the most moral army in the world. Is it possible for an army to be moral?” His query set off a firestorm of criticism that began after one of his students, Sapir Sabah, wrote a letter to Israel’s Ministry of Education complaining that Verete was “an extreme leftist.” She further claimed he had said “the Jews aren’t meant to be here” and “stresses that the Israel Defense Forces acts with unusual brutality and violence.”

Shortly after receiving Sabah’s letter, the Ministry of Education summoned Verete to a hearing, where Verete was charged with expressing his personal views in class and advocating for a political party. In his hearing, Verete said he was only moderating a discussion on an issue raised by his students. There was never any mention in the hearing that Sabah herself had publicly proclaimed that all Arabs should be thrown into the sea or that she called her teacher a traitor and said he deserved to die. Verete taped these proceedings, which were subsequently dramatized in Israel.

Guy Ben-Aharon, Israeli Stage founder and producing artistic director, heard about the piece during one of his scouting trips to Israel. In a recent interview with JewishBoston, Ben-Aharon said he was riveted by the Hebrew performance at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. “It was literally a transcript of Verete’s hearing,” he said. Ben-Aharon added that throughout the play the audience is aware of Verete frequently asking his interlocutors, “Are we allowed to pose questions in a philosophy class?”


The Hearing” is the first docudrama the Boston-based Israeli Stage, now in its eighth year, has translated and produced for American audiences. The play was commissioned and then translated by Israeli Stage’s house translator, Natalie Fainstein. Ben-Aharon said it has stirred some controversy among Israeli Stage patrons. Some have considered “The Hearing” anti-Israeli propaganda, but Ben-Aharon sees it differently. “This is a timely piece about freedom of expression and how we can ask questions in educational settings that are inherently political without being tagged as propaganda,” he said.

Ben-Aharon pointed out that many of Verete’s students defended their teacher, praising him for allowing them to speak their minds on sensitive subjects. Amid the controversy, a group of them traveled to the Knesset in support of Verete. Some of the students symbolically taped their mouths shut or blindfolded themselves. The case also spread like wildfire on social media. Michael Ben-Ari, a member of the Knesset at the time, posted Sabah’s letter on his Facebook page, fomenting a war of words between right and left. Verete received death threats, and Sabah was accused of informing on her teacher. Protestors on both sides of the divide even set up camp outside of Sabah’s home with placards.

“This type of incitement of hate for someone who disagrees with you politically has been a decade-long trend in Israel,” Ben-Aharon asserted. “It’s the same thing in the United States. Our responsibility as a society is to confront questions particularly in a higher-education context.”

Ben-Aharon emphasized that Israeli Stage has never represented a party line nor is it a political organization; the theater company is simply dedicated to presenting work from the fringes. “I was shocked at the backlash we got when we first announced performances for ‘The Hearing’,” said Ben-Aharon. “Our name is ‘Israeli Stage’ and our mission is to share the diversity and vitality of Israeli culture. How could anyone think we are working against the notion of an Israel? On the contrary, we are working to propagate Israeli culture. This kind of reaction proves to me that people are quick to dismiss and ostracize free speech and provocative questions in Israel and elsewhere.”

As with all Israeli Stage productions, each performance will be followed by a dialogue reflection. “People know that Israeli Stage stands for bringing people together in dialogue,” Ben-Aharon said. He expects the Nov. 12 performance of “The Hearing” at Emerson College will spark a productive conversation about politics in educational settings. The college’s president, Lee Pelton, will be among those participating in a discussion moderated by Laura Gordon Fisher, Harvard’s dean of faculty development. Temple Israel of Boston is hosting a cross-generation dialogue reflection on Nov. 20 about the show between teens and parents.

“I hope that everyone who comes to a performance of ‘The Hearing’ is coming with an open mind,” said Ben-Aharon. “Otherwise this is the beginning of a parable of Jacob and Esau, where brothers are going to turn against one another, be it in the Jewish community or the larger community of America.”

Find more information about performances of “The Hearing” here.