Sa’ar backs education minister, rejects ‘absurd fake news campaign’ against her

Justice minister says party member Yifat Shasha-Biton was correct in firing her ministry’s director-general

Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar leads a faction meeting of his New Hope party at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on December 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar leads a faction meeting of his New Hope party at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on December 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar on Wednesday gave his full support to his fellow New Hope party member Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton over what he called a “fake news campaign” against her after she fired her ministry’s director-general.

Shasha-Biton fired Yigal Slovik on Monday amid reported disagreements over COVID policies. On Tuesday, an official who had worked in Slovik’s office and was dismissed along with with him claimed to Channel 12 news that Shasha-Biton had prevented her from providing true morbidity figures to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett due to concerns they would lead to school closures.

“She has [my] full backing in the face of the organized and absurd fake news campaign being waged against her,” Sa’ar said in a statement referring to Shasha-Biton, the No. 2 in Sa’ar’s right-wing New Hope party..

Sa’ar said Shasha-Biton had made the “correct decisions” in firing Slovik and appointing Dalit Stauber to replace him. Stauber previously served in the post in 2011-2013 when Sa’ar headed the Education Ministry.

The former ministry employee, who spoke to Channel 12 on condition of anonymity, told the network there was “a large outbreak” of COVID-19 infections in schools “but she [Shasha-Biton] didn’t agree to get this out to the media and she didn’t agree to inform the prime minister.”

The report said the woman was fired along with Slovik, but did not specify why.

The former employee, whose voice was distorted in recordings aired by the network, also said no action was taken after COVID cases were confirmed at schools. “It just spread there into the community and they did not close the schools,” she said.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton and the ministry’s director, Yigal Slovik, speak at a press conference in Tel Aviv, on August 31, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The woman also claimed the minister has still not agreed to include schools campuses in the national vaccination drive.

Shasha-Biton denied the accusations, charging that the comments were part of a “media revenge campaign” the former employee was waging together with Slovik.

“This is a heap of lies,” the minister said. “The fact that the employee was not interviewed with her face revealed and in her own voice… proves that this is a collection of lies.”

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid expressed support for Shasha-Biton after the former employee’s comments were aired, hailing her “professionalism and integrity.”

“All the slander won’t help. We are continuing to change the country together,” Lapid tweeted.

Dalit Stauber speaks during a conference in Beit Shemesh, on March 13, 2013. (Flash90)

Also on Tuesday, the Education Ministry’s head of coronavirus policy resigned, strengthening the assumption that Shasha-Biton’s firing of Slovik was related to disagreements over coronavirus vaccines for children. According to Hebrew-language media reports, Yogev Nadav’s resignation was linked to Shasha-Biton’s firing of Slovik.

Associates of Slovik were reported to have alleged the dispute with Shasha-Biton had centered around the government’s decision to vaccinate children at school. The associates also claimed that Slovik and Shasha-Biton disagreed on measures to be taken in preparation for another wave of COVID-19 infections.

On Monday, Shasha-Biton issued a scathing statement denouncing that account as “false smears” and insisting that the disagreements had nothing to do with the pandemic.

Students at a school in Modi’in on October 12, 2021 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Shasha-Biton has been outspoken in her criticism of much of the government’s approach to the coronavirus. While she initially resisted vaccinating children on school grounds, she eventually somewhat walked back her sharp opposition.

Shasha-Biton has been the target of threats over the past few months, and initially rose to prominence as a vocal and outspoken member of the coronavirus cabinet in the previous government, who fought against many restrictions.

She has also repeatedly clashed with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz over coronavirus restrictions in schools and has been the subject of multiple anonymous attacks in the press.

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