(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Former Meretz education ministers Yossi Sarid and Amnon Rubinstein expressed concern Sunday about the pending appointment of Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett to that post in the government being formed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
After backing down from his request to be appointed defense minister or foreign minister, Bennett said he would accept the Education portfolio. Netanyahu is expected to approve the request in a meeting with Bennett on Monday.
“I am disgusted by the mere thought that the most extreme nationalist in the government could be put in charge of the education of our children and grandchildren,” Sarid told The Jerusalem Post
. “The thought of it is absolutely atrocious.”
Sarid, who held the post for a year from 1999 to 2000, warned that Bennett was influenced by the extreme elements in his party who persuaded him to accept the portfolio. He said he was also disturbed by how reluctant Bennett was to take the job.
“The Education Ministry should only be entrusted to someone who cared about the issue his whole life, not a man who claims to have fallen in love with education over the last few days,” Sarid said. “The only question is how much damage he will do. I hope not too much.”
Sarid’s main concern was that Bennett would use the ministry to transfer disproportionate funds to schools in West Bank settlements and the state religious school system.
He expressed fear that Bennett will build a yeshiva and a seminary on the Temple Mount and warned that the state secular school system was in danger.
“The state secular schools have been left with no father to fight for them,” he said.
“If [Israel’s first prime minister David] Ben-Gurion would have known this could happen, he might not have let the state religious school system begin.”
Bennett’s spokeswoman said Saturday night that he had met with former education ministers and directors- general to learn about the portfolio. Sarid said he was not on that list but that he was willing to talk to Bennett.
“I would meet anyone who wants to meet with me as long as it is within the Green Line,” Sarid said.
Rubinstein, who held the post from 1994 to 1996, said he was also willing to meet with Bennett but that he had not received a call from him. He complained that as religious affairs minister in the outgoing government, Bennett enabled the ministry to proselytize in secular schools.
“Secular schools must be protected from the missionary activity that Bennett is prone to support,” Rubinstein said. “The secular school system is already second-class and gets less funding. The teachers must unite to protect it.”
He called for the Knesset to form a public council to oversee secular schools and safeguard them from political and religious influence. Asked if Bennett may end up helping secular schools as a politician who reached out to all sectors, Rubinstein said he hoped so but did not see it happening.
Former education minister Yitzhak Levy defended Bennett from Sarid and Rubinstein, saying Bennett would run the ministry professionally and would not discriminate against any sector.
Levy, who headed Bayit Yehudi’s forerunner, the National Religious Party, called Sarid’s warnings nonsense.
“Yossi has a theatric flair and likes to exaggerate,” Levy said. “Naftali will be a terrific education minister. He is talented and disciplined. Secular Israelis have no reason to fear Bennett as education minister, just like they did not have to fear me and religious Israelis did not have to fear [former Labor education minister] Yuli Tamir. The Education Ministry serves everyone.”
Former deputy education minister Avi Wortzman (Bayit Yehudi) said he helped persuade Bennett to take the job.
“I know the ministry well, and it is a challenge,” he said. “But Naftali is an idealist who knows how to get things done. He can set goals, implement them, and have amazing achievements. I am sure he will succeed.”
With Bennett accepting the Education portfolio, Shas became the hardest nut to crack in the coalition talks.
Shas leader Arye Deri said he would not accept Bennett’s Economy portfolio or the Interior Ministry without key elements that would be given to Kulanu.
Deri also said he would not enter the coalition without Shas’s economic plan of zero-percent VAT on basic household items being implemented.
Likud politicians expressed frustration with Netanyahu for giving up too much in talks with the other parties.
Netanyahu’s No. 2 in the Likud, Interior Minister Gilad Erdan, reportedly said he would not keep his post without the portfolio being complete, and preferred the Education Ministry.
After meeting with Bennett, the prime minister is set to also meet with Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On, but he will not ask her to join the coalition.