Students Take to Streets to Protest Stipend Law

The government approved state budget which includes NIS 111 million intended for yeshiva students.

Students at universities and colleges across the country took part in a day-long protest yesterday against a clause in the budget bill that would restore stipends to yeshiva students. The bill containing the controversial clause passed its first Knesset reading yesterday.

The protest, organized by activists from the National Students Union, kicked off at 6 A.M. when 60 students (half from Tel Aviv University and half from Hebrew University ) gathered opposite the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem. The demonstrators blocked the road and released live chickens.

stipend - Eliyahu Hershkowitz - October 28 2010
Eliyahu Hershkowitz

Students also staged protests throughout the day at Ben-Gurion, Bar-Ilan and Hebrew universities, the University of Haifa and the Technion. In addition, students from a number of institutes drove in a slow convoy along the coastal highway, creating traffic jams.

The European Students' Union is also set to join the protest efforts against the new law, Haaretz has learned. During an ESU conference to be held in Israel next week, 150 of the group's leaders will apparently participate in a march organized by the National Students Union on Monday in Jerusalem. The march will begin in the city's Paris Square and proceed to the prime minister's residence.

Some 2,000 students from Ben-Gurion University attended protests on campus yesterday, at one point blocking traffic in Be'er Sheva for 20 minutes. Seven students, including student union chairman Uri Keidar, were arrested after they had blocked the road.

Students carried signs calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop issuing stipends that discriminated between yeshiva students and university and college students.

"There cannot be a situation by which almost no students meet the criteria set by the government. It's difficult to find undergraduates with three children," one protester, Hadar Stern, said, referring to a compromise that would also grant the stipend to university students who meet certain criteria.

"We are not angry with the ultra-Orthodox, but with how the state is acting," Stern said.

Some 200 students from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem left the Mount Scopus campus to block traffic on the main road to Ma'aleh Adumim, burning tires in the street. One student was detained, but protesters dispersed quickly under police orders.

"The bill proposed by [United Torah Judaism MK Moshe] Gafni and the amendment proposed by the prime minister are illogical. They perpetuate the situation, in which the Haredim do not work and do not serve in the army," said Yuval Admon, head of the Hebrew University student union.

The Geha highway was also blocked yesterday at the Bar-Ilan University junction by students from that institution.

Uriel Lahav, the spokesman for the Bar-Ilan University student union said: "The student union, as part of the general struggle is conveying the message from here - the only religious campus in Israel - that we are not against the Haredim. But we are for providing benefits to students, who are Israel's future generation. And especially at Bar-Ilan University, which knows how to produce a student who is able to combine Torah, education, work and modernity."

Police said the protest at Bar-Ilan ended without incident.

In a statement to the press, National Students Union chairman Itzik Shmuli said: "We are not stupid. The compromises in their present form prevent students from receiving the stipend."

Shmuli said students would continue to fight against what he called a discriminatory policy.