Violence mars student demo against kollel stipend bill

Students protest under slogan "we are not anti-haredi, we just want equality”; 12 detained, 20 injured.

By STEPHANIE HODES, JONAH MANDEL
November 18, 2010 06:20
4 minute read.
STUDENTS PROTEST in Tel Aviv last night against th

Yeshiva Stipends Protest 311. (photo credit: courtesy of the National Union of Israeli Students)

Twenty students were lightly wounded in confrontations with police, and 12 were detained for questioning after a demonstration against the kollel stipend bill took a violent turn Wednesday night and hundreds of students attempted to block central traffic arteries in Tel Aviv.

Students from across the country gathered outside the Tel Aviv Museum to voice their dissatisfaction with the recently proposed amendment to the state budget to enable the funding of kollel students, under the slogan of “we are not anti-haredi, we just want equality.”

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The organizers of the protest, the National Union of Israeli Students (NUIS), ensured%that no politicians were present, and the main speakers were well-known musicians, journalists and a haredi man who emphasized the need for unity in the struggle. He urged that the state acknowledge the meaning of learning Torah as part of the nation’s history, but invest equally in all its students.

Sections of the crowd booed parts of his speech, while others cheered him on.

NUIS spokesperson Eyal Basson told The Jerusalem Post that the student union would continue to speak out publicly all around the country.

He emphasized that this was not a campaign directed at the haredi community, but at its leaders in the Shas party.

“We are going to continue to work in the public and the parliamentary arena, and will not stop until we get our message heard,” he said.

The NUIS was hoping for a large turnout at Wednesday’s protest, similar to the nearly 10,000 students who protested in Jerusalem against the same bill over two weeks ago.

Basson, who estimated the number of protesters at between 1,500 and 2,000, maintained that he was not disappointed by the turnout.

“Jerusalem is a city of protests, and lots of local movements took part in that demonstration,” he said, explaining the difference in numbers. “Tel Aviv is a nonprotesting city.”

Another student traveled all the way from Tel Hai to attend the protest because he felt that as the future of the country, students had the power to enact change.

“The government should stand for the rights of the youth and invest money in them. Their bills are not working on us,” student Lony Nathanson said.

After the speeches, during a concert by singer Yirmi Kaplan, the students took to Rehov Shaul Hamelech in an attempt to reach nearby Rehov Ibn Gvirol, one of the city’s main streets. Mounted policemen blocked the protesters, who were chanting “Bibi wake up, the students are worth more!” But rowdy students soon broke the police line and began running toward the main junction with Da Vinci Street to stop traffic. A fistfight ensued between police and some protesters, and traffic soon had to be diverted off the main road as the students gained momentum, becoming louder and more aggressive. Police struggled to control the crowd and eventually resorted to pepper spray in a bid to disperse the masses.

Basson later claimed that 12 students had been arrested and 20 wounded. Some of them were hospitalized, including student union head Itzik Shmuli, but all were released from the hospital later, he said.

Earlier Wednesday, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar met with students at Bar-Ilan University to discuss the bill and promote dialogue between the different sectors of Israeli society.

“The law should be egalitarian, for the benefit of everyone. It is not only for the good of the university students, but also of the kollel students, that the latter shouldn’t have a special law,” Amar said. “I was promised that the law would address everyone’s needs.”

The rabbi repeated his praise of the student leadership, who “are responsible and seek their well-being without hurting others and spreading hatred.”

He reiterated the need to seek unity and avoid infighting in a diverse Jewish nation composed of different Diasporas and opinions.

“The unifying factor, the Jewish heritage, is stronger than all the differences setting us apart,” he declared.

This was the second meeting between Amar and students in recent weeks in an attempt to lower the flames around United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni’s amendment to the Economic Arrangements Bill calling to include stipends for kollel students. The High Court of Justice ruled in June that it was discriminatory to pay special stipends to full-time yeshiva students and not to university students, as the state had been doing since 2000.

Gafni himself has also been busy proving that he in no way seeks to show preference to the haredi sector he represents over the students. The haredi lawmaker attended a public debate on his proposal at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem last week, explaining to an auditorium full of students why and how the state should continue to support its Torah scholars, stressing that only a small number of those living in poverty actually received this specific allowance.

On Tuesday, the Knesset Finance Committee, which he heads, separated a proposed tax on students’ scholarships from the rest of the budget, a move that could stall or prevent the tax’s implementation, and a clear gesture in favor of the students.


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