young haredis studying 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu delayed a potential coalition crisis over controversial stipends for yeshiva students on Sunday when he formed an interministerial committee to search for a compromise that would satisfy both haredi and secular parties in his coalition.
The crisis began when the High Court of Justice decided that the stipends must formally codified by the end of the year via specific legislation, rather than as part of the mammoth economic arrangements bill.
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When Labor and Israel Beiteinu ministers and Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar of Likud announced they would block a bill establishing the stipends, United Torah Judaism threatened to quit the coalition.
Netanyahu decided to delay a decision on the stipends for three weeks while the committee, headed by Prime Minister’s Office Director-General Eyal Gabai, attempts to solve the problem. The committee will include representatives from the Finance, Justice, and Education ministries, the National Economic Advisory Council, the National Insurance Institute and the Attorney-General’s Office.
“My government has worked for months to find ways to encourage haredi men and women to enter the work force and improve the financial situation of their families,” Netanyahu told ministers at Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting.
“The arrangement of paying stipends to yeshiva students has gone on for 30 years, and we do not intend to change the status quo.”
The stipends are estimated to cost the government between NIS 120 million and NIS 140 million a year for full-time yeshiva students, who receive an allowance of about NIS 1,000 a month. To qualify for this stipend, the yeshiva students must be married with three children.
Netanyahu’s associates denied reports that the prime minister’s formula for appeasing the secular parties would be to give stipends to university students who meet the same criteria. Only about 200 university students with three or more children meet the stipend criteria, compared with 11,000 yeshiva students.
Shas chairman Eli Yishai said he was willing to compromise on different criteria for university students to receive stipends.
“We do not object that every student who studies should receive the benefits,” Yishai said. “The entire goal [of the bill] is to provide support to the tens of thousands of children living below the poverty line and to close [social] gaps. Anyone who would say otherwise speaks out of hatred and to incite.”
Kadima accused Netanyahu of surrendering to the haredim and abandoning university students.
Likud responded that Netanyahu was the only Israeli leader who dared stand up to the haredim, noting his cuts to child welfare payments when he was finance minister.
MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) proposed a bill on Sunday that would give stipends to university students with a child and no apartment or car.
“If you give incentives to yeshiva students, you have to give them to university students too,” Hasson said. “Giving university stipends only from the third child onward is ridiculous, because I don’t know university students with three kids. University students pay taxes, serve in the army and contribute to the state, so if we help anyone, it should be them.”
Likud responded by accusing Kadima of hypocrisy, noting that its government approved welfare payments to haredim, and even expanded the amount of yeshivot that were funded.
“Now Kadima suddenly decided they oppose what they themselves approved,” a Likud spokeswoman said.
“This is another transparent attempt by Kadima to mislead the public.”