Protest shuts down higher education, closes roads
Students responded to the strike against the reforms in higher education so enthusiastically yesterday that they even managed to surprise some of their leaders, who called the strike.
"The students have woken up and realized they won't get another chance to prevent the wrong that the Shochat Committee (for education reform) is about to do," Itzik Shmuli, the Students' Union chairman at Oranim College said yesterday.
Students on campuses throughout the country went on strike yesterday, with the exception of the Open University. The Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya intends to join the strike on Sunday.
The students are demanding a reduction in tuition fees, returning funds that were cut from higher education and replacing the Shochat Committee with a panel headed by a judge.
Some 300 students arrived yesterday at the Ramat Aviv building, which was set to house a Shochat sub-committee meeting to discuss tuition fees. Police forces blocked them at the gate, but the students broke the fences and entered the grounds.
The committee members, who knew of the students' intention to break into the meeting, moved to another building whose location was kept secret.
The demonstration continued with the students blocking the traffic on Namir Road for close to 20 minutes, after which they moved on to the adjacent Tel Aviv University. The protesters held posters denouncing the Shochat Committee and calling on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign.
Itamar Zonenfeld, of Bar Ilan University's Student Union, said faculty secretaries had been instructed to tell students who call that studies are being held, "but in fact nobody is studying." Students at many universities and colleges reported that the faculty staff were cooperating with them.
Students of at least two teaching colleges did not strike - the Kibbutz Seminar, which has no official students' union, and Beit Berl.
The strikers are not disrupting exams and students are able to enter libraries and submit papers. But it is not permitted to hold classes. "Student groups are patrolling the campuses to make sure nobody is breaking the strike," said Tomer Ziter, chairman of the Technion's Students' Union.
The presidents of seven universities published paid newspaper ads in an attempt to break the strike, announcing that "studies at the universities are being held as usual." The ads said the Shochat Committee represented the last chance to save higher education while boycotts would have destructive results.
Not all the students are supporting the strike. Two law students from private colleges, Gilad Tapias and Shneor Tzoref, yesterday launched a campaign against the students' unions and were interviewed by Ynet. "Dozens of talkbacks show that we have support," Tapias said.
The students should take part in the committee, not fight against it, they said. "I believe reform is necessary. If the students have anything to say - let them say it in the committee. A strike causes damage," he said.
Both Tapias and Tzoref have fallen out with the Students' Association, which is spearheading the strike.
Students Yonatan Rosenblat and Gabi Kaminsky are also trying to stop the strike. They distributed an Internet petition calling for a raise in tuition and a reduction of state funding for higher education. Some 290 people signed their petition, but it is not clear how many of them, if any, are students. The two recommended to the university presidents to make students pay for the strike by canceling the semester and making them take it again for the full price the following year.
The chairman of Tel Aviv University's Students' Union, Boaz Toporovsky, said in response that the students had tried to talk to the committee and ministers for months, but that their efforts had been in vain. He said there was no point in joining the committee today, as it is clear that it will recommend raising tuition.