Knesset Member Moshe Gafni’s latest bill, which would see the transfer of some NIS 120 million (roughly $35 million) to fund yeshiva students, does not only aim to circumvent the High Court ruling on the matter. It presents a genuine test to the Israeli government.
In deciding whether to accept or reject the proposal, the government will be deciding whether it is democratic, and respects the law, or whether it tramples it brutally. It will decide whether it is a government that represents all citizens, or whether it is a sectarian government captive to narrow interests; whether it serves the people, or rather, only itself.
Notably, the objective of university students in Israel is not to come out against yeshiva students, but rather, to call for equality. Hence, if the government seeks to support yeshiva boys via stipends, university students who need such help should also receive it.
The existence of arrangements that are unique to yeshiva students, in complete contradiction to the High Court’s ruling on equality between university students and yeshiva boys, constitutes an outrageous statement whereby the students at yeshivas are better and nobler than Israel’s 293,000 university students.
The haredi parties, as they always do, demand that the prime minister pay them a political bribe, in cash, over the table. Beyond the extortion and trampling of the value of equality, the move constitutes a slap in the face for students.
In this context, the “compromise offer” presented to haredi Knesset members through Prime Minister Netanyahu is no more than a bad joke, at the students’ expense. In order to locate the “special people” among the hundreds of thousands of university students who would meet the criteria custom-made for yeshiva students, we’ll have to dispatch special search parties.
University students who have three children? Sorry, we didn’t have time to do it as we served in the army for three years, and now we’re doing our reserve service. University students who don’t work? Well, some 80% of students devote every free minute they have to making ends meet during their studies, while some 60% are forced to enlist their parents’ financial support.
We have no choice
Why don’t we set different criteria that would benefit university students, whereby those who work at least part-time, are involved with social causes, or perform military reserve service annually will receive government support? Such criteria, unsurprisingly, would best match the State of Israel’s national needs.
In his arguments in favor of the bill, MK Gafni claims that there are many differences between a yeshiva student who chose to sanctify Torah studies as a way of life and students who are enrolled in university studies temporarily. But is that so? Why is a Torah-studying yeshiva student nobler than a med student? Are the studies of yeshiva boys more important to the State of Israel than those offered at Teacher’s Colleges? Are yeshiva studies more demanding than engineering or law studies?
Some people must again be counting the indifference of the silent majority; the ones who are discriminated against, pay taxes, perform their reserve service, fill the employment market, and constitute the future generation of this country. This is the same majority that the government may again discriminate against.
Yet those who believe that this time too we shall accept the decree, just say “it’s just the way it is,” and forgot about it are wrong. Not this time. This time, we won’t give up, because we, young Israelis, have responsibility for the future. Hence, we shall hit the streets and exert ceaseless pressure; we shall protest and demonstrate. We shall petition the High Court of Justice, and we shall settle the score with those who are trying to hurt us come election time.
We have no choice. Otherwise, in 20 years, we shall be left with a society that has a small army, small industrial sector, small academic world, and plenty of yeshivas that exist at the expense of the trampled secular majority. This will be good news for anyone plotting to harm the State of Israel, and bad news for those who worry about its fate and existence.
Itzik Shmuli is Chairman of the National Union of Israeli Students
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