Olim protest outside PMO 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
University students who recently made aliya dragged suitcases to the Prime
Minister’s Office on Sunday to protest the breakdown in negotiations for funding
of the Israel Student Authority, which provides full tuition to new immigrants
for their university studies.
The Student Authority is funded by the
Jewish Agency and the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, both of which have been
trying to negotiate funding with the Finance Ministry for the past
This year, 6,700 olim are receiving full scholarships through the
authority. A few days ago, students received an email stating that due to the
failure to fill the NIS 30 million lack of funding, they may not be funded next
year. This could include both new students as well as students who are in the
middle of their degree.
“Here’s a community of people who have nothing,
who have left everything behind, and they have the most motivation to change the
country,” said Tal-Or Cohen, a Rockville, Maryland native who just finished her
army service and is planning to start studying at IDC Herzliya in the
Cohen slammed the Jewish Agency for turning their focus to Diaspora
programming such as MASA and Taglit, which bring Jews to Israel for short
programs, rather than assisting people already in the country.
to the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, the budget for the Student Authority was
NIS 70m. to fund the university educations of 6,500 to 7,000 olim per year.
Through 2008, that amount was split evenly between the ministry and the Jewish
Agency. In 2009, the Jewish Agency announced they could only fund NIS 16m., and
the ministry covered 75 percent of the budget.
This year, the Jewish
Agency announced they would stop funding the Student Authority entirely, but the
ministry refused to cover the entire cost of the program, said ministry
spokesman Elad Sonn.
The Jewish Agency responded on Sunday by saying no
student would be denied their rights when a new funding agreement is eventually
“I believe you’ve been recruited to fight a war that does not
exist,” Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky said in a message to the
students. “The Jewish Agency is in negotiations with the government over the
division of responsibility for different projects that it manages.
have made clear from that the start that no student will be hurt and we shall
continue to bear responsibility for these projects... until the government
assumes responsibility for them.”
He said protesters can “rest assured,”
return to their studies and “be good ambassadors for the State of
Negotiations are still ongoing in cooperation with the Finance
Ministry. This is the high season for young olim to come to Israel, and they
arrive at the beginning of the summer with enough time to do an intensive Hebrew
ulpan course before beginning university in the fall.
is a right, not a privilege,” said Yakov Bikaw, a third-year law student at Tel
Aviv University who made aliya with his family from Ethiopia in 1991. “The whole
point of this country is about absorbing immigrants.
People came here to
make their homes and they can’t make their homes if they are staying in the
lowest classes, if they are stuck and can’t advance.”
Bikaw is about to
embark on a Jewish Agency sponsored “shlichut” to Orlando, Florida, and he said
it will be difficult to represent an organization and country that are
perpetrating this wrong.
Other soldiers who recently completed their
service said that as new immigrants paying for rent and food while in the army,
they have no way to save money for university and the scholarships are the only
way they could possibly achieve a higher education.
Sam Kadoch, director
of the Centre National des Etudiants Francophones, which represents 600 French
students, said he had no idea how to explain this issue to parents back in
France. “This is the time when they come to do ulpan... now we have to tell the
parents suddenly ‘there’s a problem.’” he said. “How can we tell people to make
aliya if we don’t know if they’ll get an education here?” Gil Shefler
contributed to this report.