A bevy of MKs from across the political spectrum inaugurated the "Lobby for the Advancement of the Status of Teachers" at the Knesset on Monday. Initiated by Labor's Avishai Braverman, former president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the lobby's aim is to put the educational system in Israel squarely on the national agenda. Many of the MKs who spoke at the event called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to directly involve himself in finding a solution to the striking high school teachers' demands. "Mister prime minister, Annapolis is important. Finding a solution to this strike is more important than Annapolis," Braverman thundered. "The public is with the teachers, the government needs to be with the teachers. Order the Treasury to find a solution. Make education a top priority," Braverman told the 150 teachers gathered to open the event. Braverman had a suggestion for the prime minister as well: "Take the teachers out of the general budget. Give them their own budget." Secondary School Teachers Organization head Ran Erez pointed out that the cutback in teaching hours basically amounted to an entire school year. "By cutting 8.5 teaching hours a week, the government stole an entire school year from the students," he said. He also said the teachers were prepared for a lengthy strike. "We prepared organizationally and financially. Even if it takes another month, two months or three months," he declared. Before the meeting, Erez responded to allegations that he was more concerned with organizing the strike than finding a solution and returning to the classroom. "I am striving towards the goal. I am a shaliah tzibbur [a representative of the community], I am a messenger to do a mitzvah," he told The Jerusalem Post. "I am doing it for others. I am not entering politics, I am an old man. I sleep four hours a night," he said. "We negotiated for a year and a half and they thought we were wimps, so we set out to fight." Erez left early to meet with Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik. "The speaker wanted an update from us, not through the media. She asked questions and we answered. She didn't say what she plans to do now," the SSTO's spokeswoman said. MKs from the left and the right, such as Meretz's Yossi Beilin and Likud's Silvan Shalom trickled in throughout the rowdy meeting to lend their support and to give advice. After calling on the prime minister to get involved, Shalom said it had been a mistake to have two separate negotiations, one with the Teachers Union and one with the SSTO. His remarks were interrupted by shouts from angry teachers on several occasions. MK Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) took the opportunity to tell the teachers she regretted not resigning sooner from her previous position as director-general of the Education Ministry. "I regret not resigning at a certain point," she said, "It wouldn't have stopped the cuts, but I could have left with more integrity." "For 30 years, I was a teacher. I am one of you," she also declared. Tirosh made mention of a law she had proposed that would limit class size to 28 pupils, and concluded by calling for "doubling teachers' salaries." MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud) pledged to the teachers "I will be your backup" at the Knesset. MKs Chaim Oron (Meretz), Orit Noked (Labor), Alex Miller (Israel Beiteinu), Eliahu Gabbay (NU-NRP), Yoram Marciano (Labor), and Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad) also addressed the crowd and received much applause from the enthusiastic audience. Oron, in particular, received a standing ovation. Meanwhile, the National Labor Court directed the sides to submit written progress reports to the court by Thursday at noon. It also offered once again to act as a mediator between the teachers and the government if a joint request were made.