Violence at Tel Aviv demo against kollel stipend bill

Students call on gov't to stop discrimination against those in higher education institutes; police detain 12 for questioning.

November 17, 2010 23:54
4 minute read.
Students protest yeshiva stipends in Jerusalem

Student Protest 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

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

Hundreds of students from across the country gathered outside the Tel Aviv Museum night to voice their dissatisfaction with the recent proposed amendment to the State Budget to enable the unique funding of kollel students, under the slogan of “we are not anti-haredi, we just want equality.” 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 our history, but invest equally in all its students. Sections of the crowd booed parts of his speech, while others cheered him on.

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NUIS spokesperson Eyal Basson told The Jerusalem Post that the student union would continue to speak out publically all around the country. He emphasized that this is not a campaign directed at the Haredi’s, but rather at their leaders, 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.”

The NUIS was hoping for a large outcome for Wednesday's protest, similar to the nearly ten thousand students who protested in Jerusalem against the same bill over two weeks ago.

Basson, who estimated the number of protesters between 1,500 and 2,000, maintained he was not disappointed by the meager outcome, and rejected the notion that the students might be less convinced that demonstrations were not the best way to achieve their goals of promoting egalitarianism. “Jerusalem is a city of protests, and lots of local movements took part in that demonstration,” he said. “Tel Aviv is a non-protesting city.”

Another student travelled all the way from Tel Chai to attend the protest because he feels that as the future of the country, students have 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,” Lony Nathanson said.

After the speeches, during singer Yirmi Kaplan's concert, the students took to the Shaul Hamelech street in an attempt to reach nearby Rehov Even Gvirol, one of the city's main streets. Mounted policemen blocked the protesters chanting “Bibi wake up, the students are worth more!” But rowdy students soon broke the police line and began running towards the main junction with Da Vinci Street to stop traffic.

A fist fight ensued between police and some protestors 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.

A NUIS spokesperson later claimed that 12 students had been arrested and 20 injured, some of whom were hospitalized including Student Union Head Itzik Shmuli.

Earlier on Wednesday, Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar met with students at the 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. I was promised that the law would address everyone's needs.”

Amar repeated his praise of the student leadership, who “are responsible and seek their well-being without hurting others and spreading hatred.” The rabbi reiterated the need to seek unity, and avoid inner-fighting 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.”

This is the second meeting in recent weeks between Amar and students in an attempt to lower the flames around United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni's amendment to the Economic Arrangements Bill, to include stipends for kollel students, after a High Court ruling in June ruled that it was discriminatory to pay special stipends to full-time yeshiva students and not to university students, as was the wont since 2000.

Gafni himself has also been busy in proving that he in no way seeks to prefer the haredi sector he represents over the students. The haredi lawmaker attended a confrontation on his proposal at the Hebrew University in 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 receive this specific allowance.

On Tuesday, the Economic Committee 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, a clear gesture in favor of the students.

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