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Israeli Teacher Union Leader Isn't a Nice Person. So What?

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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Teacher's Union Secretary-General Yaffa Ben-David at the labor court hearing on Thursday, January 27
Teacher's Union Secretary-General Yaffa Ben-David at the labor court hearing on Thursday, January 27Credit: Moti Milrod
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

Yaffa Ben David, the secretary general of the Teachers Union, has no class. She’s not nice. When she talks she always looks grumpy and annoyed. She doesn’t arouse empathy or sympathy. She arouses antagonism.

That, by the way, is the constant paradox that characterizes labor union members. If they try to protect the people they represent, they “arouse antagonism.” If they’re belligerent, they’re “animals.” If they’re Mizrahim, they’re “vulgar,” “rude” and “mafiosi.” And if they’re women – then it’s an overall disaster, evoking especially juicy insults.

In the state of the wealthy, they like their workers’ representatives cute and polite; that is, without influence or power. They like the workers to appear to have representatives – we see them, we even invest in them! – but not to feel them. (Can we get rid of that man already, who’s reached the ripe old age of 42, whose children’s upbringing is taking up too much of his time?)

The decision to cancel quarantines in schools is ultimately a correct, courageous one. The pandemic has already struck almost every home, it’s unstoppable, and the quarantine’s damage ultimately exceeds its limited benefit. But alongside the usual etiquette-minded critique of Ben David’s shocking and aggressive style, we must understand that she represents a constituency of workers in real distress.

That is, we’re all in real distress, but the teachers are out there with the medical crews on the front line of exposure to the pandemic, and they are undergoing no less than a meltdown.

On Thursday some 30,000 teachers had been diagnosed with coronavirus or were in isolation. Those familiar with the situation say the true figures are much higher. A record 37 percent of teachers taking the test turned up positive a few days ago.

In my daughter’s preschool there are assistants age 60 and over who come every day and open the preschool for those who can still come, a heroic display of courage and devotion. There they protect our children, hug them when necessary, and look after them without giving a thought to the fact that with every passing day their chances of contracting the disease are nearing 100 percent.

Reality is clear and hard. Too few workers are holding up an entire system, while the pandemic is at its peak. Canceling the quarantines and keeping the schools open – correct and bold though this may be – cannot take place without devoting any thought to the education staff.

A rogue strike is not a solution, of course. It’s reasonable to assume that Ben David knew that the step she took at the last moment was illegal, so it may be seen more as a desperate cry for help rather than a thuggish tactic. After the scolding and tsk-tsking, we must listen to the outcry from the teachers. We must pay attention to the mass desertion from the teaching profession, which is increasing due to the harsh conditions these days. And we haven’t even mentioned the caregivers in the daycare centers, the weakest group in the pyramid, who are underpaid and working in intolerable conditions.

During the vaccination drive, everyone suddenly remembered how good it was to have health maintenance organizations and a relatively strong public health system. They enabled the vaccination of most of the population with extreme rapidity. Investing in the education system – raising the teachers’ wages, mobilizing more teachers, reducing the number of students per class – is vital not only to prevent dividing society into castes, with the upper caste sending its children to private schools and existing in an obtuse bubble. It is also critical as a fundamental social anchor in acute historic crises like this one.

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