PM on Controversial Yeshiva Student Bill: Every Israeli Should Work

Labor, Yisrael Beiteinu parties say their ministers would vote against bill calling for resumption in allowances to full-time yeshiva students.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that the government would encourage every Israeli citizen to enter the work force, responding to a controversial bill calling for resumption in allowances to full-time yeshiva students.

Netanyahu 	Dror Artzi
Dror Artzi

"We will pass the Wisconsin plan and encourage the entire population of Israel to enter the work force," Netanyahu to the Likud members during a party meeting, just a day after he ordered to delay the vote on the controversial yeshiva students bill.

The bill was introduced this week by the chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism), but drew fierce criticism from ministers and members of the opposition alike, after which Netanyahu suspended the Knesset vote by several weeks.

A prime ministerial committee examining the bill is expected to recommend that students who want to join the workforce be allowed stipends during a transition period in which they study Torah and work.

The committee, which was appointed by Netanyahu on Sunday, is also expected to recommend that the NIS 1,100 monthly allotments be gradually reduced as the yeshiva students join the workforce and stop altogether if they work full-time.

Netanyahu also asked the panel to expand a controversial bill that would require the state to pay married yeshiva students a monthly allowance totaling at least NIS 150 million a year, despite a recent High Court of Justice ruling banning allocations that discriminate between yeshiva students and college students.

The Labor and Yisrael Beiteinu parties announced on Saturday that their ministers would vote against the bill.

Israel Beiteinu released a statement saying its ministers would oppose the bill, as it "perpetuates unemployment and damages the Israeli economy."

"Furthermore, the bill bluntly discriminates against Israeli university students who serve in the army and pay their taxes," the statement said.

Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni said earlier on Monday that "this battle is a public battle that touches on a sensitive spot in Israeli society; the question of which country we want to live in. equality is not a luxury, but a fundamental value."

United Torah Judaism and Shas, both members of the governing coalition, have made their support for the 2011-2012 budget conditional on the acceptance of the estimated NIS 150 million in allowances for yeshiva students.

Netanyahu does not have a Knesset majority for the budget without the two parties, and if the budget is not passed by March 31, new elections will have to be called within 90 days. Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz are keen to pass the budget and Economic Arrangements Bill by the end of December.

The High Court of Justice banned similar payments in June, saying they discriminated against students in academic institutions in favor those in yeshivas, and ordered them stopped as of 2011.

The government is considering applying to college students the same criteria the yeshiva students must meet - they must be married with at least three children, must not own a home or car, and must not have any other source of income - in order to receive the allotments, coalition sources said Sunday.

They said that in that case, only around 200 college students would be eligible.