Wanted: An Education Minister for Israel

Why hasn't any party leader asked for this portfolio, which was worth more than all the other ministries combined to me?

Ilan Assayag

Throughout the election campaign there was no trace of him and in the negotiations that followed he was mentioned only in passing. At one point he was dragged out of oblivion as a stale April Fool’s joke – Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint Arab List, for education minister.

Don’t trust the lies they tell you, like our children’s education is our top priority, or education is the most important thing. It doesn’t really interest them. Not a single party leader has asked for this portfolio. It is of no use to them. They’ll only agree to take it as a consolation prize, if they have no other choice. Backwardness suits them, for it ensures their continued power.

Everyone wants to be foreign affairs and defense and finance minister, because the children can wait. The “important people” hold the vehicle in higher regard than its driver. The Merkava may be the best tank in the world, but there are others like it and the alternative can be bought for half price. Only the driver is purely home-made; there’s no replacing him with anything out there in the world marketplace.

So what shall we do when the crucial day arrives and the local soldier has difficulty functioning in the battlefield of the future, because his qualifications are inferior to those of his counterpart in the Revolutionary Guards?

It’s hard to be an education minister. The minister who sows is not the one who reaps, because the education tree yields fruit years later. And even before planting, it is necessary to pull out the weeds and harmful growths left by previous ministers. How exhausting is the weeding work after a long term of Limor Livnat or Gideon Sa’ar.

Not every term can you find the village idiot, who of his own free will, and in full consciousness, will place his career into such a sick bed, in a bid to heal it.

In the 1999 elections I finally found myself in a position to wield extortion. Meretz, under my leadership, won 10 Knesset seats, without which it was impossible to form a government.

Already at our first meeting the elected prime minister offered me the justice portfolio – an undoubtedly honorable proposal replete with an abundance of personal compliments. I rejected it immediately. Ehud, I said, I will take only one post, which I earmarked for myself from the day I entered politics.

I added: Now I’ll show you how to raise the fallen and bring back the dropouts, how to strengthen the weak, how to help the teachers stand tall and how to undo the knots in the students’ minds and release their thoughts. I’ll show you how to run an entire system and allocate funds without kowtowing to pressure groups and parties.

I know what needs to be done, because I’ve had experience in teaching as well. I’ve entered a classroom on various occasions, taught and learned. If ministers were teachers too, they could spare themselves quite a few errors.

Being education minister was the peak of my personal and political yearnings — and not as a stop on the way to becoming prime minister. Had I insisted then, I could have been defense minister – I had devoted 20 years to national defense issues and accumulated knowledge in the Knesset, the government, the cabinet and the inner security cabinet. Perhaps as a private I could have minimized damages caused by generals.

Time elapsed, David Levy resigned and Barak suggested to me that I replace him. More than he wanted me as foreign minister, he’d had enough of me as education minister. I answered him with typical arrogance: You already have plenty of foreign ministers. Every minister carries a super-diplomat’s wand in his sheath. While I, in my selfishness, prefer to be unique. My small plot is the whole world to me, and as far as I’m concerned an education minister is worth more than all the ministers put together.

Until I got fed up with him too, was forced to tender my resignation from the job I loved, a moment before he made me act against my positions and convictions.

It’s still not clear who the next education minister will be. Who will dare to step into the shoes of Janusz Korczak, the Jewish nation’s ultimate, eternal education minister. Whoever he will be, I’m already expressing my lack of confidence in him. Education is a labor of love, commitment and a sense of dedication. If not, it’s better not to deal with it at all.