Israel's Education Minister Fires Top Official After Spat on COVID Vaccines in Schools

Tensions between the minister and the director general came to a head last week over the school COVID vaccination issue, sources say, but Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton denies it was the reason for his dismissal

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Education Minister Shasha-Biton and Director General Yigal Slovik, in June.
Education Minister Shasha-Biton and Director General Yigal Slovik, in June.Credit: Hadas Parush

Israel's Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton dismissed the ministry's director general on Sunday. According to sources in the ministry, the two had an ongoing friction over Yigal Slovik's support for administering the coronavirus vaccine in schools, something that the education minister had reservations about.

Shasha-Biton wrote on Facebook that "the coronavirus and the dismissal are unrelated", and her associates said she fired Slovik due to her more general dissatisfaction over his professional performance and not specifically over coronavirus policy.

Associates of Slovik who spoke to Haaretz on Sunday evening expressed outrage over the decision but added that he had been unhappy on the job for some time, that he had not been given latitude to carry out his job and that the ministry was falling behind in taking the steps necessary to deal with the future of the country’s education system.

The sources expressed displeasure that Shasha-Biton, who took office in June, was unwilling to allow Slovik, who was appointed at the same time, to stay on until mid-February, which would have qualified him for additional fringe benefits. He was informed of the decision to fire him on Wednesday and received formal notice of the decision on Sunday. A replacement is expected to be announced in the near future.

Tensions between Slovik and Shasha-Biton came to a head last week over the school vaccination issue, the sources said. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had directed the ministry to take a leading role in the vaccination campaign, which is now open to Israeli children from age 5, but the education minister refused, according to the sources, saying that she did not want school staff involved.

For his part, Slovik reportedly thought that the prime minister’s decision had to be complied with. The ministry issued a statement saying that it is committed to comply with cabinet and coronavirus cabinet decisions and wished Slovik “success in the future.” After comments by Slovik regarding his dismissal were made public, the education minister said that people should not be judged in their hour of distress. “The ministry will continue to lead the joint efforts with the Health Ministry to maintain the educational routine of Israel’s students,” she added in a statement.

In addition to the vaccination issue, Slovik and Shasha-Biton had disagreements over preparations for a possible fifth wave of the pandemic, sources said. Although she doesn’t deny the threat of the virus, her conduct is inconsistent with what the country needs to combat it, they said.

“I’ve proven my ability to perform in recent months,” Slovik reportedly told associates, as he complained about how he was treated. “You’re loyal first of all to your [own staff]. You don’t fire people with a notice at 10 at night. People who have left their jobs have been dismissed without speaking to them.”

Prior to his appointment in June, Slovik, a reserve brigadier general, was deputy director of the National Security Council. He had previously served as manpower director for the Israeli army’s ground forces. And like Slovik’s immediate predecessor as the director general of the ministry – Amit Edry – Slovik had no background in education.

Shasha-Biton, who has a Ph.D. in education, said at the time of Slovik’s appointment that since she has an education background, she preferred to have a director general with management experience. Although there were other candidates for the job, the education minister set her sights on Slovik early on, education system sources said.

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