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January 07, 2016

N.J. girl could face bullying charges over string of anti-Israel tweets

16-year-old called to principal's offices after politically charged social media activity during winter break

Schools Israel
010715_Koval Contributed Art /Twitter

Bethany Koval

A northern New Jersey high school student was summoned to her principal's office Thursday morning after posting a series of tweets highly critical of Israel's military actions in Palestine.

Administrators at Fair Lawn High School asked Bethany Koval, 16, to explain her politically charged social media activity during the recent winter break, Gothamist reports. The school warned Koval, who has amassed about 4,000 Twitter followers in less than a year, that she could be subject to bullying charges under New Jersey's stringent Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.

Beginning on December 23, Koval posted several tweets arguing that Israel's actions in Gaza during the summer of 2014 constitute terrorism and far exceed the casualties sustained by Israeli forces. Her tweets have since been protected.

"Hamas is not extreme: Hamas is just painted that way Hateful rhetoric against Hamas is what allowed the Gaza bombing," Koval tweeted on December 23. In a follow-up tweet, she wrote: "Israel is a terrorist force :(. Gaza bombing of 2014 death toll: 2,104 Palestinian innocents to 66 Israeli soldiers." 

When she arrived at the principal's office Thursday morning, Koval was told – in conversations she recorded – that her electronic record could result in serious legal consequences. She countered that while her opinions could be seen as controversial, they should not be considered problematic.

After Koval was briefly dismissed, she was called back to write a statement on the events that transpired. She initially refused to so, claiming she was denied her right to an attorney, but after complying, the school allowed her to revoke her statement and produce a new one once she consults a lawyer.

As the controversy spread across social media Thursday afternoon, Fair Lawn High School received dozens of calls and e-mails from Palestinian rights activists. Koval also drew support from her Twitter followers with the #IStandWithBenny hashtag.

It remains unclear how the school will proceed pending the forthcoming revision to Koval's statement. An excerpt from Fair Lawn High School's mission statement reads as follows:

"We believe that the optimal environment is one in which students feel free to challenge themselves and have opportunities to take initiative, to articulate clearly and imaginatively, to be creative, and to learn from their inquiry and experience."