Education Minister Yuli Tamir on Sunday condemned Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's comments in which the Shas spiritual leader called teachers of the Education Ministry "asses" in his weekly sermon.
"This is a rude, unfounded statement that offends tens of thousands of public workers, who do a difficult and loyal job," Tamir said.
The minister added that "Shas, who demands to receive the education portfolio, is damaging the educational infrastructure on which the whole system is based".
Tamir stressed that Yosef's statement was offensive to the teaching public in Israel and demanded the rabbi make "an immediate public apology for these ugly words".
Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni also commented on the matter at a conference at Tel Aviv University. "I heard what Shas is saying about education, and they want the education portfolio.
"I know what it will look like in their hands and I say no. Some people would it to give them - I wouldn't. Anyone who wants the education portfolio to be in Shas' hands shouldn't vote for me."
Labor Chairman Ehud Barak also took advantage of the opportunity to express his shock over the rabbi's remarks. "There is no way not to condemn the statement against Israel's teachers," the defense minister said during a Labor faction meeting.
"They are in charge of our most precious thing, the State's most precious assets, which is the education of the new generation, the education of young people. Any such reference is inappropriate and should be condemned and denounced."
'Shas unworthy of education portfolio'
Knesset Member Zevulun Orlev, who is competing for the leadership of the new right-wing party Habayit Hayehudi ("the Jewish home"), said that "Shas' is worthy of the education portfolio like United Torah Judaism is worthy of the defense portfolio."
According to Orlev, "Anyone who dodges national and Zionist education cannot serve as education minister in the State of Israel, just like anyone preaching draft dodging cannot serve as defense minister."
Shas Chairman Eli Yishai said in response to Orlev's remarks that "the people of Israel have not forgotten who began the destruction of the Jewish home, which Shas is fighting to fix to this day."
Shas' spiritual leader occasionally verbally attacks secular educators and in his most recent sermon called them "asses" and said "poor children whose parents put them in secular education".
This is not the first time Yosef called secular teachers "asses" and last year, in another sermon, he said, "Children should not be sent to where there are secular teachers who do not know the halacha. Secular teachers are not teachers, they are asses."
Attila Somfalvi and Amnon Meranda contributed to this report