100,000 gather in Tel Aviv to support teachers

SSTO head Erez: Education closes gaps, fights violence and keeps people away from alcoholism.

Teachers rally 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
Teachers rally 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
The teachers' strike goes into its 39th day on Sunday, boosted by a massive solidarity rally held in Tel Aviv's Kikar Rabin on Saturday night. Organizers said at least 100,000 people participated in the demonstration. As well-known performers sang in the background, thousands of teachers, students, parents and grandparents held signs baring slogans such as "No education, no future," and "Cheapening education will cost enormously." The keynote speech was delivered by Secondary School Teachers Organization chairman Ran Erez, who issued a clarion call on behalf of the country's educational system. "All these people who support the struggle are in favor of education," Erez said. "With every social struggle in Israel, be it single-parent mothers, bread rallies, or others, people struggle alone and nobody succeeds," he continued. "We are together. We are struggling together for the welfare of the state!" "Education is closing gaps, education is fighting violence, and staying away from alcoholism and all the bad things that are happening to the state," Erez declared. "That is our struggle. It's a shame that the government doesn't understand that. We are not against them, we are for them, and we want to tell them: The land is shaking. This volcano is erupting." Protester Naomi Besser said her pupil organization in Jaffa had brought 15 busloads of pupils to the rally. "We love our teachers, and we can make education work for all of Israel if all sides cooperate," Besser said. The large show of support came as the standoff between the SSTO and the government enters its sixth week. Before the rally began, Education Minister Yuli Tamir said that she stood firm on her determination to implement education reforms. "If the process fails, it will be my failure and I will pay the price," Tamir said during an appearance in Holon. She added that it was important to focus on a change to the system, rather than just populistic steps. "There are people who think that the value of a politician is in the power of their scream, but that's not me. I got the educational system more than any of those 'table turners' - more than 10 billion shekels." Earlier on Saturday, MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) called on Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik to impose parliamentary sanctions on the government for letting the strike last as long as it has. According to a report on Army Radio, Paz-Pines suggested that Itzik delay discussions on new bills - including the 2008 budget and the Economic Arrangements Law - to pressure the government to intervene and end the strike. Efforts to end the school shutdown produced no results last week as representatives from the SSTO, led by Erez, gathered at the Prime Minister's Office instead of attending a meeting with the Finance Ministry that was scheduled to take place in Airport City on Friday. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was not in the building, declined to meet with the teachers. After waiting in vain for the teachers' representatives in Airport City, Finance Ministry Director-General Yarom Ariav said that the SSTO had turned the struggle itself into its primary goal. "We have come today to conduct professional negotiations as we agreed yesterday but we didn't find our partners on the other side," added a disgruntled Ariav. Referring to the planned rally, Ariav went on to say that the teachers were "busy arranging demonstrations instead of trying to resolve the crisis." On Friday, Olmert urged the teachers to conclude negotiations with the Education and Finance ministries and end the strike. In a letter published in Yediot Aharonot, Olmert pledged to respond to several of the requests made by teachers in recent weeks. "I am committed to giving a dramatic pay rise of between 26 and 34 percent to SSTO members. I am committed to reducing class sizes. We will increase the number of hours in the school system and we will raise the standards for teachers and principals," he wrote. The prime minister added: "If I could, I would come and speak to you at [Saturday's rally in] Kikar Rabin, but I wasn't invited to the demonstration and I don't want to turn your event into a taunting session." Eva Cohen contributed to this report.