(photo credit: Courtesy)
Education Ministry Director-General Shmuel Abuav announced his resignation this week in the wake of what ministry insiders say was a "growing gap" between his office and that of Education Minister Yuli Tamir (Labor).
"[Abuav] and the minister didn't see everything eye-to-eye," said one ministry official on Thursday. "For a while now they've been working in parallel, not together. He talks about 'back to basics,' returning to core subjects, and [Tamir's office] talks about expanding a 'pedagogic horizon.' There's been a sense in the ministry ranks that they haven't been synchronized."
According to the official, "It's gotten to a level of nearly contradictory statements" being issued by the two offices.
But both Abuav and Tamir denied any "disconnect" was driving Abuav from the ministry. After 25 years of public service, Abuav was retiring because he wanted "a different lifestyle," he told reporters Thursday. During his 16 months in the position, he said, "I've seen the minister more than my wife. Family is very important to me."
According to a Tamir representative, "The director-general decided to end his work in public service for private reasons. We feel disappointment, especially since the past few months have seen close-knit work. Obviously such a large system with so many pressures can create tension, but it was always professional, and [Abuav and Tamir] came to understand each other well. They complemented each other with their skills."
Abuav came to the job after being director-general of the Construction and Housing Ministry, a position that earned him nationwide respect from government officials and Gaza Strip settlers for being a good manager and lending a sympathetic ear to the Gaza evacuees. Many felt he did more for the evacuees than any other government official or agency.
Abuav first ran for mayor of Kiryat Tivon at age 28, and served in the position almost two decades, serving also as chairman of the regional council's education committee. But the apex of his career, he said, was his most recent position, "a wish and a dream come true."
Ministry officials have long praised Abuav's work ethic and managerial skills. "He knew everything, read every document," said one senior ministry official on Thursday. "The ministry often talks without statistics. He demanded statistics, sometimes too many. So everyone knew you couldn't string him along. And he always put pressure on the districts, got figures and numbers and information. He succeeded in putting some order in the ministry, even if it came at the price of over-centralization."
According to the official, "People who worked with him liked doing so. He was direct and you could open and close an issue with him. He was personally connected to the school principals. He was in the field, involved. So he knew what he was talking about. And he worked from 6 a.m. to midnight, including Fridays."
Yet there were also critics. An education expert who works closely with the ministry warned on Thursday that "the whole infrastructure of Israeli education is in disarray. [Abuav] didn't come from the world of education, so he said and did things that sound good but aren't educationally sound. This idea that you have to get back to basics - people just don't learn that way. Cutting out most of the work on Jewish identity or music in order to teach more math ended up not helping with either. The effect on teacher enrichment and the professionalism of teachers in the ministry has been catastrophic. The teacher training institutes have been strangled."
"This is a good man and a very good manager who didn't know much about education, and when you don't know you can do a lot of damage," the expert said.
There have been 10 education ministers in a dozen years, with political turnovers often leading to the replacement of the senior professional leadership. "The ministry can't follow a consistent policy over years," said one observer on Thursday. "Abuav followed an opposite approach from the Likud-run ministry, and now he's leaving. So the senior leadership of the ministry is completely demoralized and afraid to express an opinion lest they be connected to a policy that will change when the government changes." Abuav "leaves a bad legacy not because he's a bad man, but because the system is in such disarray."
Abuav will almost certainly become head of Or Yarok, the traffic safety advocacy organization. Or Yarok's current director, a former senior naval officer named Hezi Meshita, announced his resignation on Wednesday, and Abuav is rumored to have been in close contact recently with the organization's founder, Avi Naor.
The ministry would not confirm rumors that Amira Chaim, head of the Education Ministry's Southern District, was a front-runner in the list to replace Abuav.