State prosecutors assail ‘violent and political’ attempt to launch teachers strike

Education official says new quarantine rules will make schools safest places in the country, while teachers union chief says planned walkout was ‘protest,’ not labor action

Yaffa Ben-David, head of Israel’s Teacher’s Union arrives for a court hearing at the Labor Court in in Bat Yam, January 27, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Yaffa Ben-David, head of Israel’s Teacher’s Union arrives for a court hearing at the Labor Court in in Bat Yam, January 27, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

State prosecutors on Thursday said a call by the Israel Teachers Union for its members to not go to work in protest of new rules that nix quarantine for students exposed to COVID-19 was a “violent and political” strike.

The Tel Aviv Labor Court ultimately blocked the wildcat strike called the previous night by union head Yaffa Ben-David, which Education Ministry Director-General Dalit Stauber on Thursday called “illegitimate.”

“This is a violent strike, this is a political strike making illegal and illegitimate use of organizational power, aimed at changing policy of bodies authorized by law,” prosecutors said in a letter to the court.

“In my opinion, it is a strong-arm move that is not right,” Stauber told the Radio103FM station.

The Education Ministry and the Israel Teachers Union were set to discuss the new quarantine rules at a meeting Thursday afternoon.

Stauber insisted that the new quarantine rules, which include a requirement for students to conduct two home virus tests a week, will make schools “the safest places for every citizen in the country.”

Education Ministry Director-General Dalit Stauber attends a press conference at the Knesset on January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

She pointed to recent research on the impact of distance learning on students during lockdowns over the past two years of the pandemic, with depression, eating disorders, and other problems increasing.

“Health and welfare are not just Omicron or the coronavirus… it is also the mental health of the children… Children must get up in the morning and maintain their routines,” she said.

Still, Ben-David remained defiant, telling the Kan public broadcaster Thursday that her stay-away order was a “protest” and not a strike.

She said that in applying the new quarantine rules, the government made a “populist decision and is abandoning teaching staff.”

Yaffa Ben-David, head of the Israel’s Teacher’s Union in Jerusalem, on March 15, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Edna David, deputy secretary-general of the Teachers Union, told Channel 12 news that the walkout was intended to protest “a very irresponsible plan the government decided on.”

“There is chaos in the education system. They are gambling here on the health of educators,” she said.

David said that Ben-David had made “the most responsible decision to protect the health of 160,000 teaching staff who come to schools and kindergartens.”

“I have never heard the education minister talking about the health of the teachers and kindergarten teachers,” she said.

The Israel Teachers Union said in a statement: “It is a pity that the government insists on betting on a dubious plan that endangers the lives of students and teaching staff. The government insists on a dangerous plan to cover up its failures in managing the epidemic in the education system.”

National coronavirus czar Salman Zarka told Kan that though he supported the new quarantine rules, it would have been better to wait another week before applying them to let the wave of infections ebb as expected.

Ben-David on Wednesday evening called on teachers not to show up to work the next morning in protest of the new rules, which, she wrote, will jeopardize faculty members’ health by allowing children exposed to coronavirus carriers to continue going to school.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton visits students at the Ramon School in Modi’in, on October 12, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Ben-David’s announcement plunged hundreds of thousands of parents into uncertainty over whether there would be school on Thursday, with the courts decision to block it only coming just before dawn. The exceptions were Jerusalem, northern Israel and parts of the West Bank, where school had already been called off due to a snow day.

Ben-David’s move sparked opposition, not only from the government and parents but also from teachers.

Dorit Hazan, chair of the Histadrut Labor Federations organization for kindergarten teachers and educators, told Channel 12 on Wednesday that Ben-David’s call to strike was “irresponsible.”

“This feels as though she isn’t really concerned with the kindergarten teachers and, in general, pedagogic workers,” Hazan said.

Illustrative: Students at the Ramon School in Modi’in, on October 12, 2021 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Education Minister Shasha-Biton also lashed out at Ben-David for what she called “strong-arm political moves at the expense of Israel’s children.”

Under the new rules, all students both vaccinated and unvaccinated will need to take two home antigen tests a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays, and report negative results to an Education Ministry portal.

Children who test positive for COVID-19 at home will need to take an official antigen test at a state facility and isolate for five days if that too shows a positive result.

The announcement left unclear whether there would be any penalty for not testing among vaccinated students, stating only that those who are unvaccinated and refuse to take tests would be forced into quarantine when they come in contact with a confirmed carrier of the virus.

Those in close contact are encouraged, but not required, to test daily for five days.

There was also criticism Thursday that the necessary test kits had not yet been delivered to all students as promised by the government, with the Education Ministry saying there was a nationwide shortage of tests.

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