Education minister presses Bennett to make coronavirus cabinet meetings public

In letter to PM, Yifat Shasha-Biton argues that openness and transparency are critical to building public trust in government

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton seen during a plenum session in Knesset in Jerusalem, on October13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton seen during a plenum session in Knesset in Jerusalem, on October13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton on Wednesday pressed Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to make ministerial meetings on coronavirus policy in order to lift the veil on the decision-making process for dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak.

In a letter to the prime minister, Shasha-Biton wrote urged “full transparency for professional discussions” in the coronavirus cabinet, a select panel of ministers tasked with forming virus policy.

She noted that such openness should also include decisions regarding the education system.

The process of making decisions should be “fully open to the wider public,” she wrote in the missive that was picked up by Hebrew media and first published by the Walla website.

Shasha-Biton reminded Bennett that greater government transparency was a campaign promise by parties seeking to oust previous prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the last election campaign.

“Such a promise is worth being kept,” the minister wrote and argued that openness and transparency are “essential to strengthen public trust in the government.”

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton speaks at a press conference at the Ministry of Education in Tel Aviv, August 31, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Last week, the High Court of Justice instructed the government to explain why the protocols from coronavirus cabinet meetings are kept confidential. The Movement for Freedom of Information, together with various media outlets, had petitioned the court that restrictions be removed, enabling the publication of the protocols. The court gave the government until November 11 to justify why it should be able to keep the  minutes confidential.

Other ministers are reportedly also in favor of opening up the meetings for public scrutiny.

Shortly after the establishment of the current government in June, Defense Minister Benny Ganz asked Bennett that the protocols from coronavirus cabinet meetings be published. Economy Minister Orna Barbivai also supports the idea because details of the meetings are leaked anyway to the press, Walla reported.

Discussions from the coronavirus cabinet and other ministerial meetings are often reported in Hebrew media outlets before the sessions have even ended and leaks sometimes come so fast that news sites run almost minute-by-minute updates of what transpires.

Among the details that have been reported were sharp confrontations between the prime minister and Shasha-Biton over how to open the academic year, which started on September 1. Shasha-Biton reportedly also clashed with health officials and other coalition members on the subject.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, center, and Education Minister Yifat Shasha Biton, left, visit students on the first day of the new academic year, at a school in Yeruham, southern Israel, on September 1, 2021. (Flash90)

Shasha-Biton has a history of being headstrong on coronavirus issues, even in the face of heavy government pressure. During the previous government, when she was still a rank and file lawmaker of the Likud party under Netanyahu, Shasha-Biton headed the Knesset Coronavirus Committee, and refused to approve some government health orders restricting public life as a means to curb spreading infections.

Ahead of March’s elections, she left Likud and joined the New Hope party instead.

Israel appears to be exiting what was its fourth wave of virus infections that began in June. Daily infections have tumbled from over 10,000 a day at the peak of the outbreak to around 1,000 in recent days.

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