Israel's universities and colleges have joined a petition against the Interior Ministry for alleged unfair exemptions of yeshivas from city taxes.

Student unions from around the country filed the petition to the High Court of Justice about two months ago after the ministry's director general issued a directive changing the criteria for exemptions.

According to the petitioners, the change was designed to ensure that yeshivas do not pay municipal tax for their student dormitories. For example, institutions would be exempt if their students lived in the yeshiva building, as opposed to university campuses that have separate dormitories.

Four universities - the Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University and the University of Haifa - joined the petition Sunday along with 21 public academic colleges and the student union at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design.

"There is no doubt that the new criteria were tailored precisely for the yeshivas, which condition studies on their students' living in the yeshiva building," the petition said. It added that there was no similar exemption "for students in recognized institutions of higher learning that receive state funding."

Sources in the Interior Ministry said the exemption was not meant to exclude the universities, but applied to any boarding facility that is part of a school, whether religious or not. It gave as examples Beit Hashanti, a shelter for homeless children, and the Mikveh Israel high school.