"A state that prevents its citizens from participating in higher education is moving backwards not forwards," declared Labor leader Amir Peretz Thursday, during a meeting with the heads of various national student bodies at Labor Headquarters in Tel Aviv. "We must allow our students to learn with a clear head, and save them from having to work in a bar until five in the morning to earn enough money to stay afloat. That way we will be moving towards creating a healthier and more productive economy and workforce," he added.
Peretz's comments were made in response to Finance Minister MK Ehud Olmert's recent proposals to increase university fees and even force students whose parents fall within the middle socioeconomic brackets, to declare their income status in order to receive scholarships. "Olmert's scheme is flawed at its very foundation," noted Peretz, "It makes no sense at all that students should bear the financial burden of other societal problems."
Sitting alongside Peretz were MK Yuli Tamir and Professor Avishay Braverman who recently resigned from his post as president of Ben Gurion University of the Negev in order to run in the upcoming Labor primaries. Braverman assured the small group of representatives and students, among them Boaz Taparovski, Head of the Tel-Aviv Student Union, that under a Labor government, every young person in the country would be given the opportunity to receive an interest-free loan, irrelevant of economic background. "Only those who eventually earn decent salaries will be asked to pay it back," he said.
With the slogan, "Labor is creating a revolution" clearly prominent in the background, Peretz, Tamir and Braverman made it very clear that supporting higher education students was a top priority for their party, and they urged those present to join forces to push forward this manifesto. " We need you to lead the revolution," Braverman insisted.
Tamir told The Jerusalem Post that it was the students who come from middle class backgrounds who were suffering the most in such cases since they receive no support whatsoever from the government. "There is a surfeit of NIS 13b. from this year's budget which if used effectively could easily finance numerous social reforms," she said.
Lior Strassberg, head of the Student Union in 2001 and current Labor party member pointed to the fact that there are over 200,000 students in this country, many of whom are searching for a suitable political party with which to align themselves. He urged colleagues to recognize that this was a major opportunity for Labor to prove that it is the 'natural home' for students.
Among those present was Noam Doten, 22, a political science student at Tel Aviv University, who was pleased with Peretz's attitude, though he considered Olmert's proposals to be, "just another chance to create an unfair distribution of wealth under a pitiful social pretense."