Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office says he did not make a commitment to Shas party leader Eli Yishai to reinstate the stipends for yeshiva students that the High Court of Justice took away, but Shas' leaders understood things differently. They say Netanyahu promised to make sure the payments continue, via a provision in the Economic Arrangements Bill.
Just two weeks ago, the high court ruled on a petition by Jenny Baruchi and others that no distinction could be made between university students, who do not get income stipends, and yeshiva students, who do receive them, and that the fundamental principle "requiring all citizens to accept the fundamental values of government and to take responsibility for the obligations of each citizen" must be respected.
This is an important court ruling, and it aroused protest among ultra-Orthodox public figures. They have "arranged" an array of special support for their yeshiva students for a long time, and have thereby assured them a life of idleness, devoid of the need to acquire a profession or education to earn a living. In the absence of a responsible legislature that sees the interests of society as a whole and the danger inherent in creating such a large stratum of poor, willfully ignorant people who are not suited for the modern labor market, the high court drew a line between government coalition agreements and clear harm to the principle of equality.
It now appears Netanyahu is looking for circuitous ways to bypass the high court's decision, in order to satisfy his coalition partners. If that is in fact what he is doing, he will again prove to the public that he places political survival above honoring a High Court decision, and that he is ready to pay any price to maintain his position as prime minister. Netanyahu's surrender to Shas is puzzling inasmuch as Yishai has not even hinted he might threaten to resign. This is Netanyahu, who as finance minister preached and acted against evading productive work and in favor of returning the unemployed - and those not working by choice - to the workforce. It is therefore difficult to understand how he is now bolstering the Haredi viewpoint - which is controversial even among the Haredi public itself - that a poor yeshiva student who avoids working should be more entitled to benefits than any other citizen in Israel.
Netanyahu is well aware of Israeli society's need to extract the Haredim from the cycle of poverty and state handouts, and the need to integrate them into the labor market to ensure future economic growth. His surrender to Shas' demand perpetuates an unacceptable arrangement and goes against the national interest.
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