Tel Aviv school becomes political hot potato

In an interview with Channel 2 Wednesday night, Bennett said Shevah Mofet would open as usual Thursday morning.

Classroom (illustrative). (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Classroom (illustrative).
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed an effort by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday to prevent the closure of a Tel Aviv school that has been attended by many immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett and the Tel Aviv Municipality had announced that the Shevah Mofet School would become a school for migrant workers’ children, whom it would teach in their own languages.
Netanyahu said in a statement that Shevah Mofet had many accomplishments, is respected, and was the school of seven students who were murdered in the Dolphinarium terrorist attack in 2001.
“Because of all these reasons, the prime minister strongly opposes closing the school and said that he expects all relevant authorities to back keeping it open in its current format,” the statement said.
But sources close to Bennett said they see Netanyahu’s support for keeping the school in its current format as an attempt to undermine him. They noted that Netanyahu had been attacking Bennett in recent briefings for the media.
Liberman and Bennett sparred over the fate of the school at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting.
Bennett said at the meeting that the decision to close the school was purely professional.
In an interview with Channel 2 on Wednesday night, Bennett said Shevah Mofet would open as usual Thursday morning.
“Whoever wants to attack me will attack me,” he said. “The first day of school is a special day and is not the time for political attacks.”
The Tel Aviv Municipality released a statement Wednesday night saying that Shevah Mofet’s building is the only structure in the area where most of the migrant workers live.
The statement said the school could be moved to a different location and that many of its students do not even live in Tel Aviv, but come there due to its large population of Russian speakers.
“The prime minister should help the education minister find funding to operate Shevah Mofet in a different location instead of engaging in populist politics on the backs of residents of South Tel Aviv and immigrants from the former Soviet Union,” the statement said.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s office went further, accusing Netanyahu of being responsible for the problem of migrant workers in Tel Aviv and breaking promises to return them to their home countries.
“The prime minister is behaving like the lowest of the talkbackers by releasing a statement to the press instead of solving a problem he helped create,” Huldai’s office said.
The Prime Minister’s Office responded that Netanyahu’s policies have led to the departure of some 20,000 migrant workers from Israel over the past decade.
“Huldai should be embarrassed for considering closing Shevah Mofet,” Netanyahu’s office said.