Education Ministry director-general quits, citing societal ‘rift’

Asaf Tzalel, a reservist Air Force pilot, says he will still carry out military duties, calls for state education to remain nonpartisan

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

File: Then-Education Ministry director-general Asaf Tzalel attends an Education, Culture, and Sports Committee meeting at the Knesset, on March 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
File: Then-Education Ministry director-general Asaf Tzalel attends an Education, Culture, and Sports Committee meeting at the Knesset, on March 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The director-general of the Education Ministry resigned from his role on Friday, citing the current societal divisions.

“The rift we’ve arrived at does not enable me to continue to carry out my responsibilities properly,” Asaf Tzalel said in a statement that did not specifically mention the overhaul.

The first piece of legislation was passed on Monday: the so-called “reasonableness law” that prevents judicial review of governmental and ministerial decisions.

The coalition’s efforts to limit judicial oversight have ignited sustained, mass public protests, and opposition from military personnel, business leaders, foreign allies and others.

Tzalel, a reservist pilot in the Israeli Air Force, said he would continue to carry out his military duties, because “I have no other country, even if the country is on fire.” Many other military reservists, particularly pilots, have ceased carrying out their duties in protest of the overhaul.

Tzalel was a personal appointment of Education Minister Yoav Kisch, himself an air force reservist, some six months ago.

Tzalel served as a senior officer in the IDF Ground Forces with the rank of a brigadier general before he left the career military role to become Education Ministry director-general earlier this year, as a personal appointment by Kisch. He had previously commanded the IAF’s training department, as well as the 110th Squadron, which operates F-16 fighter jets.

File: Education Minister Yoav Kisch in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on March 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Walla news site cited an unidentified individual close to Tzalel who claimed he had succumbed to pressure from friends in the air force reserves and in the kibbutz where he lives.

“He couldn’t stand it. It was uncomfortable for him and his family.” the person said.

Another unnamed source cited by the outlet said Tzalel and Kisch “had had disagreements from the start” while also noting that “he faced pressure over what is happening in the country. This was cooking for a long time. Apparently, the ‘reasonableness’ issue led him to make the final call.”

The military warned on Tuesday that its combat readiness may soon be harmed if thousands of reservist troops in key positions, especially pilots, do not show up for duty over a lengthy period of time.

In quotes provided by the Israel Defense Forces on Friday, the chief of the IAF, Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar, warned in a recent meeting with a forum of senior commanders that Israel’s enemies may attempt to test the military amid the reservists’ protests.

“I have no doubt that we face many challenges. I am aware of threats in all sectors and what our enemies are saying. It is possible that at a time like this, they will try to test our boundaries, our cohesion, and vigilance,” Bar said in the meeting with the heads of the various IAF squadrons and units.

“We need to continue to be alert and prepared, and I am sure we will be,” he added.

Tzalel said Friday that “the education system is nonpartisan and should be preserved as such,” and urged a “new route” to be taken that will allow state education to heal the country’s rifts.

Tzalel expressed support for Kisch’s policies and praised the ministry’s professionalism.

Kisch thanked Tzalel for his work over the past half a year and wished him luck.

The minister picked Meir Shimoni, currently director of the Education Ministry’s Jerusalem district, to replace Tzalel with immediate effect.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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