Israel's Student Union Pushes for Vacation on Muslim, Christian Holidays

Council for Higher Education is also mulling union demands for special conditions for Arab students taking exams while fasting during Ramadan.

Doron Golan/Jini

The National Union of Israeli Students recently asked the Council for Higher Education to add the principal Muslim and Christian holidays to the vacation schedule in institutions of higher learning, for the benefit of the Arab students enrolled there. To date, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Haifa have added vacation days on the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice and on Christmas.

The union also asked the CHE to grant leniency to students who fast during the holy month of Ramadan. The union noted that this year, “Ramadan falls during the summer, at the same time as the exam period in various academic institutions. During this period the fasting students have to deal both with studying for the exams and with prohibitions against eating and drinking during the daylight hours, in addition to very hot and sometimes intolerable weather.

"Due to a lack of choice, however, most of the institutions scheduled the exam period during Ramadan. But holding exams during the fast harms the chances of a fair and equal opportunity for those who abstain from eating, and sometimes even forces them to decide between observing the precepts of their religion and taking the exam.”

The union is demanding that the CHE impose obligatory regulations on all institutions of higher learning. In addition to additional vacation days, the group is demanding “the automatic approval of a special examination date to be offered to all fasting Muslim students, in any subject for which one of the two scheduled exam dates take place during the month-long fast. The special date will ensure that the studies of the fasting students aren’t affected and that they will be able to continue their studies like their non-fasting friends.”

In addition, the union is also demanding that “15 extra minutes be added to every hour of examination for all the Muslim students who decided to sit for exams during the fast, in all the subjects for which one of the exam dates falls during the fast period.”

Diran Shalabneh, head of the student union's department for advancing Arab students, added that “the CHE system has the ability to change many barriers confronting Arab students. The National Union of Israeli Students has made removal of these barriers part of its agenda. Accordingly, the union will do its utmost to influence the ability of Arab students to succeed and to become integrated as equals in the system, without undermining their freedom of religion.”

The CHE said in response that, “In a recent meeting with representatives of the students it was decided to examine altering criteria according to the practice in the labor laws. The issue is expected to come up for discussion in the CHE plenum during one of its upcoming sessions.”