Israel's teachers crisis: Needless drama, but a political win for all involved - analysis

Once the details of the deal became clear, it remains a mystery why such a compromise could not have been reached weeks, if not months ago.

  Teachers' Union head Yaffa Ben-David, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman hold a press conference (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Teachers' Union head Yaffa Ben-David, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman hold a press conference
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

Why did it take so long?

This is the question that remains after the Finance and Education ministries and the Teachers Union reached an agreement on Wednesday, less than 24 hours before schools were set to begin.

At the press conference celebrating the deal on Wednesday night, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said the hardest part of the negotiations was to “leave politics aside” and allow the professionals to hash out a deal despite the political pressures of an election campaign.

But the drawn-out negotiations and the drama – namely, the public barbs sent back and forth between Liberman, Teachers Union head Yaffa Ben David and Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, and Liberman’s power play to demand a restraining order against a teacher’s strike despite Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s opposition – smelled like politics.

The feuds drew media attention. The deal was described as “historic,” a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat. It is, indeed, a significant achievement. Perhaps most importantly, it is valid until 2026, which will grant the system stability and leave room for long-term planning. However, one cannot help but wonder whether the whole saga was exacerbated for political gain.

This is the question that remains after the Finance and Education Ministries and the Teachers Union reached an agreement on Wednesday, less than 24 hours before schools were set to begin.

  Teachers' Union head Yaffa Ben-David, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman hold a press conference (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV) Teachers' Union head Yaffa Ben-David, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman hold a press conference (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

Deal details raise more questions than answers

Once the details of the deal became clear, it remains a mystery why such a compromise could not have been reached weeks ago.

The deal, as it was announced in a statement, does not include drastic changes from offers that were put on the table last month. Ben David largely received what she wanted all along: The minimum salary increase for all teachers will be at least NIS 1,100, instead of the NIS 400 that the Finance Ministry offered. To compensate for the raise, the stipend that will be awarded to teachers who remain in the system for three years was lowered from NIS 24,000 to NIS 10,000.

The Finance Ministry caved on a few other relatively minor demands, such as changes to teachers’ eligibility to receive “mother’s hours” – namely, a slightly shortened workweek – and that they will still be able to receive tenure after just three years in the system.

The teachers agreed to changing some of the vacation days so that they fit the vacation of the general workforce.

That’s about it.

In a month or two, the memory of the threatened teachers’ strike will be hazy, but both Liberman and Shasha-Biton will surely continue to remind us about their “historic” achievement. Ben David can go home happy as well, with a nice raise for her union members. Despite the unnecessary drama, the affair was a win-win-win for those involved.

The problem is that it came at the expense of parents who waited in distress until the last minute to hear that their children would begin their school year. Preparation for the school year was also disrupted – at the expense, of course, of the children themselves.