In Victory for Bennett, Soldiers' Tuition Bill Passes Without Likud Vote

The law, which will cover 75 percent of tuition fees for discharged Israeli soldiers, passed in the Knesset with only the Joint List voting against

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Israeli parliament, last week.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Israeli parliament, last week. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

A bill to partially subsidize academic tuition fees for Israeli soldiers passed a Knesset vote into law early on Tuesday, with 55 lawmakers voting in favor and six opposing. The Likud party, headed by Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu, did not take part in the vote.

The predominantly Arab Joint List was the only party to vote against the bill, which would have the state subsidize 75 percent of a discharged soldier's tuition.

Ahead of the vote, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett urged the opposition to support the bill, which was initially designed to anchor covering just two-thirds of tuition fees for combat unit veterans, new immigrants, lone soldiers, and soldiers from low-income families.

The vote was supposed to be held last week, but was held up in the Knesset after facing surprising objections from Likud and its leader, Netanyahu, who said he was opposing the bill due to the fact that it wouldn't fully cover tuition fees.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz then proposed a compromise – that the scholarship be raised to 75 percent, which passed with 55 majority.

"My goal is not to harm Likud," Gantz said after proposing the compromise, "but to strengthen Israeli soldiers, and to maintain the integrity of the government."

In a faction meeting earlier on Monday, Gantz said he "expects all parts of the coalition to work to pass this law," possibly referring to the UAL. "I won't accept desertion from any part of the coalition from this vote. Discipline in the coalition isn't a luxury, but a basic condition for our ability to rule and function."

Coalition members were initially hoping to persuade lawmakers Idit Silman of Yamina and Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi of Meretz to back the bill. Silman left the coalition last month, and Zoabi, who announced her resignation last week, later reversed her decision. Neither of the lawmakers participated in the vote.

Earlier on Monday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called on opposition lawmakers to support the bill. "The opposition should grapple with the coalition, not our combat soldiers," Bennett said in an effort to convince United Arab List and Likud lawmakers to back the bill.

Gantz also called on Likud lawmakers to support the bill and "bring honor to the Knesset" by putting combat soldiers "above politics."

Last week, several Likud lawmakers expressed their intention to defy Netanyahu's request that they vote against the bill. The party has found itself in an unlikely confrontation with Israeli soldiers due to its stated policy of never supporting legislation sponsored by the current Israeli government, which ended Netanyahu's hold on power almost a year ago.

Likud sources criticized Netanyahu’s plan to oppose the bill, with a senior member of the party saying that “Netanyahu is causing very serious damage to Likud in his decision to withhold scholarships from combat soldiers. The public suddenly understands that petty politics are being played at the expense of the soldiers. Every day that passes, the public damage caused to Likud is huge. Who would dare to play politics at soldiers’ expense? He’s dragging us all to new lows.”

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