A Government That Defeats Its Teachers

The government has already taught us a bad lesson in civics − did the Sharon-Netanyahu-Livnat government not commit to build 5,000 classrooms a year, while it barely built 500?

We can only hope the High Court of Justice will correct what the National Labor Court has distorted. Not only labor unions have been trampled on here in the past few years but the courts as well. After all, it is clear to everyone that the back-to-work orders do not really end the strike. The teachers' struggle will continue in other ways, no less painful to themselves and others. From now on, school will be a sad place, and children must not be taught against the backdrop of sorrow. A warning is necessary: If the state defeats its teachers, thousands of good teachers can be expected to desert the education system. Those who can will simply go.

When a gun is on the table, it is impossible to hold bona fide negotiations, and no miracle will occur this Hanukkah. A jar of oil that has not yet been found will not be found next week either. It would have been possible to solve the crisis by now had the government not sown disbelief at every step. Trust is a necessary condition, and without it, any proposal is merely a song in the wind, something that will happen when the messiah comes.

Is it therefore surprising that the teachers refuse to be enticed by promises and demand to be satisfied on the spot? Not a wage increment of 8.5 percent spread out until June 2009, not additional work hours without a defined timetable, and not fewer pupils in the classroom as a good, but abstract, idea.

For its part, the government expects the teachers to believe it and trust it. But why should they believe it? The Israeli public has experience with disappointment and frustration, it knows from the past that a word is not a word. The government has already taught it a bad lesson in civics - did the Sharon-Netanyahu-Livnat government not make a commitment to build 5,000 classrooms a year, while it barely built 500?

Did the Olmert government not make a commitment to add to the culture budget while it actually continues to detract from it? Did one government not make a commitment to reduce university fees and then another one increased them? Did the current government not make a commitment to raise the minimum wage, and has it not frozen it in legislation? Were there not promises to invest more than NIS 10 billion in the Galilee and Negev while not even NIS 1 billion has been invested? This article is too short to present here all the pledges the government has made but failed to keep, and it still complains that it is the one that has been robbed.

To whom will the teachers turn to get redress for promises not kept? On whom will they pin their hopes? Perhaps on the Kadima party that is here today but nobody knows where it will be tomorrow. Or perhaps the Labor party, whose head, Ehud Barak, did not take the time to meet the strikers and remembered only after 45 days to break his silence and, as if being forced, to say a few words of support for the Education Minister who had been left out in the cold.

Or perhaps Shas, which looks out for its own educational stream because teachers outside their way of thinking are donkeys, as the great teacher Ovadia Yosef said. Or perhaps the Yisrael Beiteinu party, which seeks the good of Jerusalem but does not seek the good of the Torah that comes out of Zion. Or perhaps Likud - Benjamin Netanyahu and Limor Livnat - during whose tenure the education system lost its stature, while only now, during the Festival of Lights, does Netanyahu see the light.

This week I received a letter from a young high school teacher named Iris Dayan who prepares pupils for the matriculation exams. I do not know her but she is worth knowing. She completed, with distinction, a Bachelor's degree in software engineering at the Technion, and worked for four years in high tech, earning a decent wage. But she felt she wanted to contribute more. "I decided to be a teacher," she writes. "I knew it would be difficult, but it is much more difficult than I had thought. I knew I would not earn much, but it is much less than I expected." This mathematics teacher attaches her wage slip - "seeing is believing," as she puts it - to her letter: For a 52 percent-time job she earns NIS 1,716.20.

And now she is being ordered back to work. True, it was her choice to become a teacher, she volunteered, but the government is insisting on raping her.