Hundreds of Students Block Roads in Tel Aviv to Protest Yeshiva Stipend Bill

Student union head calls Netanyahu 'a prime minister who yields to political blackmail.'

A student protest last night against extra handouts to yeshiva students escalated into violent clashes with the police. The demonstration, on the plaza of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, turned violent as hundreds of students tried to march toward Ibn Gvirol and Kaplan streets, blocking traffic.

Student protest Moti Milrod 11.17.2010
Moti Milrod

The police said eight students were detained and four policemen needed medical attention, but the students said they were assaulted by police using excessive force.

The small rally, hosted by journalists Orly Vilnai and Guy Meroz, began peacefully and included a number of speeches and performances. Singer Alma Zohar said she was disappointed with the poor attendance.

"I think there aren't enough students in the protest here," she told the crowd. "Each demonstrator should go home and tell friends at university that it's a pity they didn't show up to support an important cause - equality and social justice."

The atmosphere heated up with the speech by Menachem Gesheid, an ultra-Orthodox journalist and adviser to Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.

"Instead of fighting with each other, we should unite," Gesheid told the students. "The ultra-Orthodox community clearly supports scholarships for students, we are with you in the struggle .... We expect an honest partnership, and it's important that you remember the words of [early Labor Zionist] Berl Katznelson, who said that a people without a past has no future. We are studying and preserving the Torah, and most of the ultra-Orthodox community works for a living."

Gesheid was booed when he said that "unless we recognize the importance of the Bible and its Gordian Knot to the nation, we don't have anything to do here among millions of Muslims."

Tel Aviv Student Union chairman Ran Livne addressed his speech to the prime minister. "Netanyahu, maybe it's time that instead of making statements about equality, you faced the television cameras and said what everyone knows already: I'm a prime minister who yields to political blackmail."

Itzik Shmuli, chairman of the Student Federation, said the rally was "another stop on the way to victory in the struggle." He warned that unless there was equality, "there will be a revolution."

The event got out of control when two smoke grenades were thrown toward the stage during a performance by singer Yermi Kaplan. The crowd left the plaza and began moving on Shaul Hamelech street, with dozens of students sitting down on the road at the corner of Shaul Hamelech and Da Vinci streets, blocking traffic.

This led to physical and verbal confrontations with the police, who announced that the protest had just become illegal and began arresting the students who blocked the road.

Gaby Kupferschmied, a student from Tel Aviv, told Haaretz he was attacked by a Border Police officer. "He kneed me, and I saw other policemen attacking students and choking them," he said, adding that most of the policemen "were okay, but a few went out of control." Morris, another student who attended the protest, said policemen were throwing demonstrators to the ground.

Itzik Yoshovayev, a Student Federation delegate, told Haaretz the developments were not planned, but that "this is a struggle for the entire country, after years of political manipulation, and the students will not be silent."