Analysis: Tamir shows her true colors

Realizing that her days are numbered, Tamir is reverting back to her days as one the founders of Peace Now.

Yuli Tamir 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Yuli Tamir 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Education Minister Yuli Tamir's decision to allow Arab schools to use a textbook that refers to the War of Independence as the Palestinian nakba (catastrophe) is little more than symbolic. New textbooks aren't printed and distributed overnight, especially not in the cash-strapped Arab school system, so the new book probably won't be ready for the coming school year. By the following year, there will probably be a new education minister who will overturn Tamir's decision. And anyway, the presence or absence of a certain textbook is going to make little difference to the radicalization of much of the Israeli Arab community. Most Israeli Arabs have been calling Israel's foundation the nakba for the last 59 years without an officially sanctioned textbook. But the decision underscores the futility of Tamir's position. The Education Ministry is in charge of the largest civilian organization in the country, a school system with 130,000 teachers and more than 1.5 million students. In such an organization, real change can be achieved only after serious planning and significant implementation. Throughout the 1990s, education ministers were replaced on average of every 18 months, leaving them little time to institute any lasting reforms. But when Limor Livnat was appointed in 2000, she managed to hold on for a breathtaking five and a half years. She embarked upon the largest and most ambitious plan to revitalize the system in every aspect, a revolution that, among other things, put her on a collision course with the teachers unions. But even her lengthy tenure wasn't enough to do more than launch her Dovrat Plan in a small number of local councils. When Tamir arrived, she lost no time in shelving the plan. Naturally she had her own ideas: a radical plan to change teaching in the infant years, student loans that would cover all tuition costs and renegotiating the pay structure with the teachers unions. But Tamir has been forced to realize that any change in the education system costs a lot, and if the finance minister is not a political ally and if you don't enjoy the full backing of the prime minister, you won't get very far. Tamir, as a Labor minister and Amir Peretz supporter to boot, had neither. She instead had one of the worst spates of strikes in the high schools. Although she managed to complete a new pay deal with the elementary school teachers, it hardly changed the way they work for the better. Last month, Tamir was forced to realize how short-lived her dream job might be. Following Peretz's defeat in the Labor primaries, Tamir was left clinging to one of the most coveted cabinet portfolios, but without a political patron to make sure she held on. New Labor chairman Ehud Barak offered the post to his runner-up, Ami Ayalon, who was almost tempted to accept. Tamir kept her cool, but she knows how close she was to returning to the backbenches. Any changes to Labor's cabinet team and her head will be the first to roll. As it is, Barak has promised to leave the Olmert government immediately after the final Winograd Report. Even if the coalition survives under a new premier, it's hard to see Tamir's ministerial career faring as well. Realizing that her days in the historic Mahanaim building are numbered and that her chances of effecting any reforms are nil, Tamir is reverting back to her days as one the founders of Peace Now. An education minister might have little influence on what actually happens in schools, but the position offers endless opportunities for PR stunts, since everyone seems to care deeply about what our children are taught. Former Meretz leader Yossi Sarid was on the job for less than a year, but he managed to cause a ruckus when he decided that the work of Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish would become part of the literature curriculum. It was yet another empty gesture; few students if any actually learned a line of Darwish. But it fit in with his political agenda. This week's nakba furor is similar. Ideologically, while remaining in Labor, Tamir is much closer to Sarid. She moved closer to the center to have greater influence, a tactic that worked for quite a while. Now that she knows her political career is almost certainly past its prime, and she will never get such a senior cabinet post again, she can indulge herself.