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Teacher’s Union chief draws outrage, and support, after fiery TV appearance

Parents, others lambaste Yaffa Ben-David for railing against Education Ministry’s plan to shorten summer break amid pandemic; others laud her for defending teachers’ rights

Secretary-general of the Israel Teachers' Union Yaffa Ben-David speaks during a protest event in Tel Aviv on August 29, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Secretary-general of the Israel Teachers' Union Yaffa Ben-David speaks during a protest event in Tel Aviv on August 29, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Many parents and social media users have been fuming at Israel Teachers Union head Yaffa Ben-David over a fiery TV interview Sunday in which she insisted teachers would not work in July, defying the Education Ministry’s directives that said summer vacation would be shortened due to the pandemic.

Others have been expressing support for Ben-David, describing her as a crusader justly defending the rights of the workers she represents.

In the controversial Channel 12 interview, which has since gone viral, Ben-David said: “We will not add a single day at our expense.”

Schools have been closed since March due to the coronavirus outbreak and are expected to reopen before the school year ends. The Education Ministry has said it will extend the academic year through July and begin summer vacation in August.

Many teachers have continued to teach online in the interim, with limited success. Teachers receive their salaries through the summer months, which they say compensates for the poor pay and rigors of teaching in the other 10 months of the year. But according to Ben-David, asking teachers to work in the summer is tantamount to having them work for free.

Minutes before Ben-David’s interview, Education Minister Rafi Peretz told the network that there was no choice but to continue classes during July.

Education Minister Rafi Peretz attends a Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, December 23, 2019. (Flash90)

“It’s unacceptable for everyone to have to work while the teachers get a vacation then,” the minister said.

Unimpressed, Ben-David said that teachers had already given up their Passover vacation days and that “no one understands what it takes to facilitate online classes.”

“There is money in the Finance Ministry, they can use it to fund summer school (instead of having teachers work),” she asserted, as anchor Yonit Levi stressed the importance of “solidarity” during times of distress.

“Let them say what they want. I don’t give a hoot,” Ben-David replied.

But others, including interviewers Levi and Keren Marciano, accused her of self-seeking and sabotaging the state’s efforts to rehabilitate the economy as parents will not be able to go back to work if schools aren’t extended.

Her comments and combative approach drew widespread criticism on social media.

“I know teachers and educational workers from up close,” tweeted Likud MK Yifat Shasha Biton, who is housing minister. “Most of them are moral, dedicated people who are committed to the best interests of the students and the success of the system. The shameful, aggressive and divorced-from-reality show by the person who is meant to represent them harms them and hurts their reputation.”

Arnon Bar-David speaks to members of the Histadrut labor organization, March 29, 2019 (Screen grab via Facebook)

Ben-David even received veiled criticism from the head of the Histadrut labor federation, Arnon Bar-David, who is normally aligned with her on such matters.

“I am starting to identify a public atmosphere of incitement between the [public and private] sectors, and we should all be wary of that,” Bar-David said in an interview with the Ynet news site.

“At this time we need to be responsible with our rhetoric, and I expect all sectors, including my friend Ben-David, to see how we can all do that so that the economy stabilizes,” he added, indicating that she had gone too far.

Ben-David also received dozens of supportive comments on her Facebook page from fellow teachers, and some analysts argued that she was simply defending the interests of those she represents, many of whom earn low salaries under tough conditions.

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