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Supporters of Gila Klein, who is in the running to become the next head of the Israel Teachers Union, say they have been pressured to withdraw their support for their candidate.

They point the finger at union branch secretaries and other officials linked to the union's current chief, Yossi Wasserman, who seeks reelection. Klein herself calls the efforts a "fear campaign."

The vote to head the union, the largest teachers union in the country, is scheduled for April 5.

"Within a half hour of the submission of the [candidate] lists, the branch chiefs began to contact teachers and pressure them to remove their names from the lists," said one union activist from the center of the country running on Klein's slate. "A different tactic was chosen for each teacher, but there was one goal, to hurt our list."

A number of teachers requested anonymity due to concerns over the repercussions.

But a member of Wasserman's slate said: "We condemn any phenomenon involving threats, and our representatives are not engaged in them. Klein is the one continually lying and slinging mud, marring the election campaign.

"It's ridiculous to argue that branch heads competing in the elections are barred from trying to convince teachers to support them for another term. That's the principle on which democratic elections are based."

According to one teacher from the north, "When a person with authority such as a union branch chairman asks why teachers are joining a competing slate, the unconcealed message is that if we need his help in the future, we won't have him there at our side."

She said the pressure made several teachers remove their names from Klein's competing slate.

According to Klein, "If it was a matter of attempts to convince people to join Wasserman's slate, it would be legitimate. But it's a fear campaign." Still, many teachers were supporting her, she said.

Pressure from school and ministry officials

In some cases, the pressure is said to have come from the school officials and Education Ministry people to which Klein's supporters report. A teacher in the north said her principal had asked teachers at her school to withdraw their support for Klein.

Wasserman has been the union's secretary general since 2002. About four years ago, he signed a reform plan called New Horizons with the education minister at the time, Yuli Tamir. The plan is currently being implemented, largely at elementary schools. Klein has served in recent years as chairwoman of the union's Ashdod branch.