Where Protesters and Tycoons Meet

Former protest activist Itzik Shmuli, chairman of the National Student Union, is strengthening his ties with the business world.

The chairman of the National Student Union, Itzik Shmuli, continues to strengthen his ties with leading members of the business sector. Recently Shmuli founded a new organization that aims to raise money for the city of Lod. Among those at the launch of the new effort last week were Irit Izakson, the representative of Shari Arison on the board of directors of Bank Hapoalim and chairwoman of Isracard; Yossi Rosen, chairman of Haifa's Oil Refineries Ltd. and a senior executive of the Israel Corporation Ltd., controlled by the Ofer family; Shelly Amir, director of community relations at Bank Hapoalim; and Yarom Ariav, former director general of the Finance Ministry and presently a consultant and director in private firms.

Shmuli has recently come in for harsh criticism from his former partners in the social protest movement, after Haaretz published a story about the donation he received for Lod from the IDB Group, controlled by Nochi Dankner.

The event, held at Lod's cultural center, was limited to only 50 invited guests from the business sector, and took place far from the eyes of the media. Izakson even objected to having the event filmed. Rosen told Haaretz that he was attending because he hoped to "formulate a plan for carrying out a revolution in the city of Lod." He stressed that he had come as a private individual and not as the chairman of the refineries, and that as far as he was concerned, "This isn't a matter of financial assistance, only civic assistance."

People with ties to the student union said that before the inaugural event, Shmuli had contacted Rosen, who promised to find contacts for him among his friends from the business community.

Shmuli was harshly criticized for taking the donation from IDB after he decided at about the same time not to join this year's social protest. In an interview with Channel 2 Shmuli rejected the criticism and claimed that "the business sector is not my enemy. The business sector is not against the protest. The protest wants to change the government's socioeconomic policy. I think that some of the business people in Israel have become public enemies in a campaign of delegitimization. I'm not a part of that."

It should be noted that about four years ago a foundation headed by Ariav was established with the same objectives as the new public group founded by Shmuli; most of the foundation's income comes from donors from the business sector and philanthropists.

However, Ariav said at the launch of Shmuli's organization that "there is no intention of constructing a redundant mechanism. This is a public council that is made up of people who care about the issue, who can help by bringing in donations and raising awareness."

A statement by Isracard, whose representative attended the event last week, said: "Isracard participates in many projects on behalf of the community all over the country. The chairman of Isracard attended the conference in order to hear the problems of the city of Lod. In the wake of the meeting we will investigate the possibility that Isracard will finance a project in one school in the city."

Bank Hapoalim said it had not given a commitment to the project.

The National Student Union said: "The union will continue to protest the government's harmful socioeconomic policy. We are proud of the national activity being led by the union to rehabilitate the city of Lod, and thank the many partners and donors in the business sector who enlisted to help the move succeed, in light of the government's lack of support. The establishment of the public council will create mutual and ongoing commitment between the business sector and the city of Lod. We would like to emphasize unequivocally that all the activity of the National Student Union in Lod is being carried out entirely on a voluntary basis and that no salary, stipend or perk is being received from any group."

'Students demand democracy'

Today elections for chairmanship of the National Student Union are scheduled to take place. Shmuli is running uncontested after announcing that he was prepared to continue for another term. The chairmen of the Student Unions in the University of Haifa and Tel Aviv University, who had planned to run against him, changed their minds.

Last week, 180 students who belong to a Facebook group called "Students demand democracy" called for the elections to be held on their original date, some three months hence. That way, they argued, students would have the opportunity to influence the composition of the union by electing a chairman from the academic institution in which they are enrolled. (The national union is the umbrella organization for some 60 different student groups around the country. )

On the group's Facebook page, they wrote: "If any citizen can run for the premiership, why can't any student run for the leadership of the union? Don't the members of the Histadrut labor federation elect the head of their union? If the student union is the body that unites and represents us and is supposed to take care of our interests - how is it possible that we don't have a right to vote in the elections that determine who will lead this organization?"

Itzik Shmuli at Saturday’s rally in Tel Aviv.
Tomer Appelbaum