The first day of school on Tuesday was an opportunity for MKs from across the political spectrum to pass on their political views to the younger generation.
Opening a school year for the first time in the capacity of education minister, Naftali Bennett told children, “This year you are entering a more personal and human education system. More personal, because it’s smaller. First-grade classes are smaller for all children, so that teachers can reach every single one of you, and in preschools, there is a second aide.
“I wish you all a successful year.
I love you very much,” he added, before accompanying three of his four children to school.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went to Ashkelon. Rather then visiting the high school he spoke instead to first-grade students. He used the opportunity to decry Hamas’s firing of rockets into southern Israel, saying that while Israel educates its children toward peace, Hamas does the opposite.
“The first lesson in first grade is ‘Shalom first grade,’ with the emphasis on shalom,’” he said.
“We educate our children for peace. A few kilometers from here, Hamas teaches its children the opposite of peace and it tries, from time to time, to fire at us, at you.”
Netanyahu said that the country had “zero restraint, zero let-up, zero tolerance for terrorism,” and both responds to every rocket fired at Israel – as it often does in actions against Gaza – and also “foils terrorism like we did yesterday in Jenin,” referring to the overnight action in Jenin where a Border Police Counter- Terrorism Unit fighter sustained moderate wounds during an operation to apprehend a senior Hamas operative.
“We want peace but we first of all we must watch over our land, our children, we must watch over you.
This is our first obligation – the security of our children,” he said.
He also encouraged the children to strive for educational attainments in whatever fields they succeed in.
“We want you to be excellent students and we want you to be Zionists, to be loyal citizens of the state but also to have personal success in many areas.
“Maybe you want to play soccer better, maybe you want to solve math problems better, maybe you want to write essays in Hebrew better... and maybe to know English better. We want you to enjoy excellence and Zionism,” the prime minister said, adding, “I hope very much that you will succeed and enjoy... in class and in recess and be good friends to one another.”
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked visited Amit High School in Kiryat Malachi, a religious-Zionist school that works to integrate students from the Ethiopian community.
Shaked told the students to enjoy high school, a “magical” time in their lives, but at the same time emphasize achievements, studies and youth movements. “The beauty in youth movements is that they combine activities and volunteer work while improving social skills. It helps build character,” she advised them.
Shaked also warned the students against posting harmful photos, videos or text on social media and told them to be considerate of their peers.
Economy Minister Arye Deri visited a WIZO preschool in Jerusalem, in which haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and children from other sectors study together, and said he was very impressed with its work.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) visited the Branco Weiss High School for at-risk youth and the ORT school in Lod, calling them places where disadvantaged students can break free of stigmas.
“It’s up to them and their courage and determination,” Herzog said, “but it also depends on us. We have to give them the infrastructure to create, dream and develop.” Herzog called for greater equality in the education system, so that the students at these schools will not have to fight for their place in Israeli society. “We need a deep change and I am committed to it with all my might,” he added.
Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay spent the morning at Netaim, a green school primary school in Ramat Gan, together with Mayor Yisrael Zinger and MK Merav Ben-Ari (Kulanu).
The Netaim school previously received an award of excellence for prioritizing environmental issues, and has been officially recognized as a green school after meeting the required criteria for at least two years, the ministry said. The ministry invests about NIS 2 million yearly in the environmental certification process, which now includes about 750 green schools around the country and welcomes an additional 130-150 each year.
“Protecting the environment involves many small activities,” Gabbay said at the school on Tuesday.
“I have three children. My youngest son today started second grade, and it’s very exciting. When I grew up we lived in a different world in which no one talked about the environment.
“Everyone talks to you about being educated at school and environmental issues today are already being taught in kindergarten. I learned about the environment from my children – what they learned in school was what they taught me,” he said Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni on Tuesday visited Modi’in’s Yachad school, the flagship school for the nationwide Meitarim pluralism school chain. Livni said that the country “had made a great mistake” at its founding, creating “separate haredi, religious-Zionist and secular” school systems and that “more schools should be like this one” with religious and secular Jews learning together.
With one foot and without rising from her chair, Livni flawlessly stopped a soccer ball kicked accidentally at her by one of the students during a short student skit, in a moment of comic relief. Without missing a beat, she kicked the ball back to the student, who looking a bit embarrassed, and continued with her remarks.
MK Stav Shaffir (Zionist Union) visited her alma mater, Dror High School in the Lev Hasharon Regional Council area, where she presented her position on the future of education in Israel to 11th-graders.
Shaffir plans to visit schools around the country in the coming years to hear from students, teachers and principals what they think should change about the system.
MK Dov Henin (Joint List) visited a “protest school” in a tent built by Beduin. The protest school was founded because their village is not recognized by the government.
“Why do these children not have classes with walls and air conditioning?” he asked. “The recognition of this village is frozen for years because of discrimination in planning and because of the phosphates mine that is planned on the village’s land... The government continues caring about the interests of tycoons instead of children,” he charged.
Some MKs simply accompanied their grandchildren to first grade, like Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel and Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, leaving political messages aside.
“We need to strengthen our children to strive for excellence but not forget that, more than grades, we need to strengthen values that turn all of us into a better society,” Ariel said.Herb Keinon, Sharon Udasin and Yonah Jeremy Bob also contributed to this report.