Bill Would Grant Nat'l Service, IDF Vets Same Tuition Aid

MK Braverman, who introduced the bill, says that if passed, the bill would greatly increase the number of people doing national service, especially among the Arabs and ultra-Orthodox, and would also encourage army service.

MK Avishay Braverman (Labor ) is introducing a bill by which national service volunteers and soldiers doing compulsory service would receive a significant monetary grant to finance their higher education.

Braverman says that, if passed, the bill would greatly increase the number of people doing national service, especially among the Arabs and ultra-Orthodox, and would also encourage army service. Braverman said Israel's economy would benefit from higher numbers of college graduates.

Braverman, who started work on the bill while he was minority affairs minister, told Haaretz this week that there was a good chance the government would sponsor the bill, based on many conversations about it with ministers and senior government and army officials.

Braverman's bill calls for the government to pay a monthly salary to soldiers and national service volunteeers beginning in the second year of their service. Combat soldiers would be paid minimum wage, combat support soldiers would be paid 90 percent of minimum wage, and soldiers serving in clerical and similar positions would be paid 80 percent of minimum wage.

Of this, 75 percent would go directly to a college fund, and soldiers and volunteers could use the remainder during their service for living expenses.

It is estimated that combat soldiers would accumulate about NIS 70,000; combat support soldiers, NIS 63,000; lengthy national service volunteers, NIS 55,000; and two-year national service volunteers about NIS 28,000.

The money accumulated would be enough to pay for a B.A., the cost of which is around NIS 9,000 per year.

Braverman's bill is based on the American GI bill, passed in 1945 and still in effect, with changes, in the United States today.

The chances of the bill passing will depend on the government's willingness to pay for it. Braverman, with the help of economists, has calculated the annual cost of the bill at between NIS 4 billion to 5 billion.

The current annual budget for the payment of grants and salaries to soldiers is NIS 2.5 billion.

At its minimum, with the current number of 5,500 national service volunteers, the program would cost the government only NIS 35 million more than the current budget. A maximum projected number of 38,500 national service volunteers would require the government to invest NIS 900 million. In addition to the NIS 2.5 billion already budgeted, the rest of the money could come from surplus tax receipts - which last year amounted to NIS 12 billion - or a decision by the Finance Ministry not to implement its plan to reduce marginal corporate tax from 24 to 18 percent.

Braverman says his legislation provides "a response" to the series of bills proposed by Yisrael Beiteinu calling for preference to be given to army veterans in government jobs.

The Knesset Ministerial Committee for Legislation is set to vote today on one of those proposals: MK Fania Kirshenbaum's bill that would prohibit the state from assisting universities in indirectly subsidizing the tuition of students who either have not served in the army or done national service.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein determined that such legislation is unconstitutional because it discriminates against Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox, who do not usually do national or army service, and last week asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt to such legislation.

The Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset faction said over the weekend that while it respected the attorney general's opinion, it would continue promoting the bill.

Yisrael Beiteinu said its bill would correct the longstanding problem by which soldiers who risk their lives for the country do not receive preference in government jobs.