Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was criticized on Monday for his reported comments in a coronavirus cabinet meeting last month suggesting that parents be pitted against each other to encourage vaccination of their school-age children.
Ahead of the school year that began on September 1, the cabinet voted for a plan where, in so-called “Red Cities” where infection rates are high, grades 8-12 would only study in person if 70 percent of the grade level was vaccinated with at least one shot.
According to a Channel 13 report Sunday night, Bennett had advocated moving individual classes to distance learning under these circumstances rather than the whole grade, believing that it would encourage parents to shame others into getting their children vaccinated.
“I want the parents of those who vaccinated their children to put pressure on the parents who did not vaccinate,” he was quoted as saying. “I want the parents to compete with each other. Let them fight.”
Responding to the report, the National Parents Association slammed the statements, which they called “shocking.”
“The statements attributed to the prime minister, for wanting, ostensibly, the parents to fight each other are shocking and it would have been better if they had not been said at all,” a statement by the organization read.
“We demand that the prime minister rescind his statement and, most importantly, allow all Israeli children their basic right to study in educational institutions with tests or vaccines, and not only with vaccines,” they added.
Following the criticism, the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement saying that Bennett “strives to end the phenomenon of mass quarantines and allow as normal a life as possible for Israeli students and their parents, while maintaining their health.”
“To this end, he asked the various professionals to examine options for outlines that will allow for regular and continuous learning,” the statement said.
The report came as the Education Ministry reported on Sunday that only half of teachers in Israel have received a coronavirus vaccine booster shot.
It wasn’t clear whether that figure was out of all teachers, or out of the roughly 90% of them who have received the first two doses.
Starting October 1, anyone eligible for a booster shot who hasn’t received one will have their Green Pass revoked, requiring them to present a negative coronavirus test to attend various venues and events. Schools are included in the Green Pass system, with teachers required to either be vaccinated or regularly display a COVID-19 negative test result.
As of Sunday evening, 3,055,366 people in Israel — 33% of the total population — have received a third booster dose of the vaccine.
According to the Education Ministry, there is no intention at this stage to relax the regulations for teachers, and all unvaccinated teaching staff will be required to perform a coronavirus test twice a week in order to enter their educational institutions.
“We believe that most teachers will be vaccinated with a booster during the week of Sukkot and during the first days of school,” a source in the Education Ministry was quoted by the Walla news site as saying.
Earlier on Sunday, unions representing both school and kindergarten teachers slammed a decision by lawmakers that requires students returning to school following the upcoming Sukkot vacation to present a negative COVID-19 antigen test.
The teachers’ union said that it was not the job of educators to monitor students’ adherence to health regulations.
At a meeting of the Knesset Education Committee on Sunday morning, secretary-general of the Israel Teachers’ Union Yaffa Ben David told lawmakers that school principals and kindergarten teachers are not supposed to be “coronavirus wardens.”
“Someone here is completely confused,” she said, according to a statement put out by the union.
On Sunday evening, the regulation was passed by the Education Committee.
Prior to its approval, Ben David said that if the rule were to be approved, the Israel Teachers’ Union will petition the High Court of Justice “to prevent this decree.”
The association of kindergarten teachers likewise said in a statement: “We are not the police and our job is not to prevent entry to kindergarten.”
The new measure is expected to apply to all students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. Ahead of the start of the school year on September 1, parents of all students in first through sixth grades were requested to pick up rapid antigen testing kits from schools and administer them to their kids, but they were not made mandatory for admission to classrooms.
Most students across Israel were in school on Sunday for the final day ahead of the festival of Sukkot, which begins Monday evening. The majority of schools are shut for the entire weeklong holiday, with children slated to return to classrooms on September 30, two days after the holiday ends.