Israeli college students and politicians succeed in limiting yeshiva student stipends, 2010

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Timing
Time Period:  
26 October
2010
to
17 December
2010
Location and Goals
Country: 
Israel
Location Description: 
The protests occurred at various universities across the country, as well as in the nation's capital
Goals: 
Non-orthodox students wanted to stop the Knesset from approving a budget that would include stipends to support yeshiva (ultra-Orthodox) students' studying.
 

On 14 June 2010, the High Court of Israel ruled to abolish state grants given to students at Jewish seminaries, or yeshivas. Prior to this decision married yeshiva students with children had received these grants to support their studies, but for nearly ten years secular students of higher education had not. The Knesset had passed a bill in 2000 ceasing stipends of secular students. Soon after this, Ornan Yekutieli, a Jerusalem councilman and activist, petitioned the Knesset to end the support of yeshiva students as well. For religious and cultural equality, the stipends of yeshiva students were also being cut.

Despite this decision, a bill was introduced to add the yeshiva student stipends into the annual budget, and outrage over this began as soon as it was publicized. On 24 October 2010, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu created a committee of economic and religious experts to examine the public anger at this new bill adding the ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students’ stipends to the national budget for the next two years. This was in clear violation of the previous attempts at equality. Despite this action and public discontent with the bill, on 25 October, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz officially added the stipends to the state budget that reportedly would be easily accepted by the Knesset.

Many non-orthodox Jews and students within the nation, as well as political elites, were enraged. Labor Party member and Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar of the Knesset and numerous other politicians worked against the law’s passing. Member of the Knesset Yohanan Plesner felt that other politicians approving the bill were deceiving the people. Labor Member of the Knesset Eitan Cabel also agreed that there was an evident level of duplicity and lying, and implored others to vote against the bill and budget approval.

The government’s response was simply that they were “acting in accordance with a High Court ruling to regulate the assured income for yeshiva students. At the same time, the government is working to encourage yeshiva students to undergo professional training and integrate into the labor market.”

On 25 October 2010, the Labor party publicly announced a “battle” against the government in response to the bill. The next day they began to plan for student protests across the nation. Students began to send protest letters and faxes to Moshe Gafni, the Shas Party lawmaker who introduced the bill. The letters were satirical requests to become yeshiva students in the nation’s records prior to the official approval of the bill. Some ultra-Orthodox students spoke out on the issue. Avraham Bitkin, a social work student and father of four said that many yeshiva students did not want the stipends, nor did they need them. The stipends could potentially be destructive and discourage yeshiva students from trying to work, thus “widening the gap.” Many yeshiva students already fell nearer to the poverty line than non-yeshiva students, and these stipends would not aid in improving this condition.

On 31 October 2010, students began physical demonstrations. They burned tires as a symbol of their frustration and anger, a symbol of the “black smoke” that would spread out of the universities and into all of the cities of Israel. Protestors held signs that read “finance and management studies, not managing and financing yeshivas.” Police detained seven students in Beersheba who were blocking a highway, including Ben Gurion Univeristy Student Union Chariman Uri Keidar. Students at Bar-Ilan University attempted to close route number 4, a high-traffic road close to the university but stopped quickly and returned to the sidewalks. They all held signs that said, “We are equal students,” “We aren’t suckers,” and “We have a yarmulke though we aren’t haredim (orthodox).” Hundreds more protested at Tel Hai College. They marched from the college to the city of Kiryat Shmona chanting and holding signs that read, “I’m praying for a scholarship.” Chairman of the National Student Union Itzik Shmuli became one of the faces of the moment, and helped to clarify in one public address that while the people were fighting in opposition of the ultra-orthodox stipend, they were not battling the ultra-orthodox themselves. It was important to him, and to many others within the campaign, to clarify that it was not the religious ideology that they opposed, nor the students, but a stipend that would only deepen preexisting inequality.

On 2 November 2010, 10,000 students from universities across Israel rode chartered buses to Jerusalem. They marched in protest through the city from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official home to Zion Square. Campaigners continued for the next month or so, writing letters, marching, and, meeting with members of the Knesset, and on 17 December 2010, the government responded with a proposal to limit the stipends for yeshiva students, rather than completely and immediately removing them. The plan would phase out the stipends over five years time. While this did not entirely appease the protestors, it satisfied and placated opponents of the stipends enough that strong protest ended. On 19 December fourteen members of the Knesset voted in favor, while eight opposed and three abstained, and Prime Minister Netanyahu approved the official bill.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Odenheimer, Alisa. "Israeli Cabinet Limits Stipends to Yeshiva Students." Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg L.P., 19 Dec. 2010. Web. 28 Apr. 2013. <http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-12-19/israeli-cabinet-limits-stipends-to-yeshiva-students-update1-.html>.

Avid, Barak. "Minister, Opposition Slam Cabinet's Proposal for Yeshiva Stipends." Haaretz.com. Haaretz Daily Newspaper Ltd., 17 Dec. 2010. Web. 28 Apr. 2013. <http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/minister-opposition-slam-cabinet-s-proposal-for-yeshiva-stipends-1.331205>.

"Israeli Students Protesting Yeshiva Stipend Bill." Jta.org. JTA: The Global News Service of the Jewish People, 28 Oct. 2010. Web. 28 Apr. 2013. <http://www.jta.org/news/article/2010/10/28/2741483/students-protest-against-yeshiva-stipend-bill>.

Velmer, Tomer. "Students Step up Campaign against Haredi Funding Bill." Ynet.com. Yedioth Internet, 26 Oct. 2010. Web. 28 Apr. 2013. <http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3974938,00.html>.

Velmer, Tomer. "Only 30 Students Protest in TA against Yeshiva Students Bill." Ynet.com. Yedioth Internet, 31 Oct. 2013. Web. 28 Apr. 2013. <http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3977385,00.html>.

Lis, Jonathan. "High Court Abolishes State Grants for Yeshiva Students." Haaretz.com. Haaretz Daily Newspaper Ltd., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2013. <http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/high-court-abolishes-state-grants-for-yeshiva-students-1.296109>.

Volmer, Tomer. "Students Clash with Police at 'yeshiva Law' Rally." Ynet.com. Yedioth Internet, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2013. <http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3986242,00.html>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Jessica Seigel, 28/04/2013