Lone soldiers are expressing concern for their finances and education ahead of the Knesset votes for the IDF Scholarship Bill on Monday.
No scholarship, all alone
The “MeMadim LeLimudim” scholarship for released lone soldiers, combat soldiers and other soldiers from special backgrounds funds two-thirds of the cost of the veterans' academic or vocational studies —But has been suspended due to political disagreement and delays in the passing of the bill for the program.
Lone soldiers, foreign-born IDF servicepeople without families in Israel or Israelis with no estranged from their families, are especially impacted by these delays. They've expressed concern about being in debt and having to suspend their studies because they are unable to pay — And feel that MKs have turned them into political gambling chips, despite having left their families and risked their lives to serve in the IDF.
“The delay has affected me," said a former lone soldier currently serving as an officer. "I am currently studying my master's and was counting on the scholarship to cover my last few months of university. I lost my mother to cancer recently and she was my main support mechanism. This has put me under unnecessary financial strain.”
"Towards the end of my service, I decided to apply for a second degree," said a recently released lone soldier from Ecuador. "I did this after a careful calculation of my ability to pay tuition, taking into account the Madim LeLimudim scholarship. I never do anything in Israel without considering my budget, as, since I have no family support, a wrong choice might leave me unable to pay my rent or buy food. I never thought I would face a situation where I might have to abandon my master's degree at the end of the second semester.
Soldiers say that the funds were scheduled to be transferred by April, but they have yet to receive them. The scholarship program's email is unresponsive. The Ecuadorian lone soldier said that they had called the Defense Ministry, only to be told that there were many veterans in the same situation. The representative told the veteran that there was nothing that could be done — except that they should try to go protest.
Political gambling chips
On Tuesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz decided to bring the scholarship bill to vote on Monday, and the coalition opposition faction, led by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has decided that it will not support the bill unless changes are made.
"When we saw the IDF Scholarship Bill, we understood that they're taking advantage of you," Netanyahu explained in a video published on social media.
Netanyahu demanded that instead of the scholarship paying two-thirds of the cost for studies, all of the soldiers' studies should be subsidized. He also noted that there were other issues with the bill, such as the program not funding "studies for other professions like paramedics, medicine and the hospitality industry." Netanyahu argued that the funds should be given to the recipients prior to studies, not during the school year.
הלוחמים שלנו נותנים 100 אחוז ומגיע להם 100 אחוז. pic.twitter.com/2iHqxUx6Ny— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) May 19, 2022
On a popular lone soldier Facebook group, one commenter agreed with Netanyahu, saying that "maybe we should be paying 100% of the tuition for soldiers instead of 66%, and 0% for prisoners instead of 100%"
"If the coalition receives our corrections and looks after you warriors, we'll vote for it," Netanyahu promised. "If not, the first law a Likud-led government will pass will be a law that 100% supports you — That will give retroactively also to those that are serving today."
The Ecuadorian lone soldier told The Jerusalem Post that the people relying on the scholarship can't wait, as they're currently in the middle of their studies, and retroactive application would be too late to help.
"Universities have their own deadlines," they said, adding that all of Netanyahu's demands would ensure that the bill would never happen, as it would be too great of a strain on the government budget.
Netanyahu said that he proposed to add NIS 50 million to the scholarship budget, but "[Prime Minister Naftali] Bennett and [Allternate Prime Minister Yair] Lapid refused our proposal. They gave 50 million to [Ra'am MK Mansour] Abbas, another 50 million to renovate the private house of Bennett in Ra'anana — But 50 million for soldiers, they don't have."
"The Likud's decision to vote against IDF fighters [does] severe damage to IDF fighters and Israeli society," said Gantz on Friday. "We will present the bill for a vote in the Knesset this coming Monday for 16,500 soldiers who are waiting and deserve a scholarship. I call on Netanyahu and the Likud MKs to come to their senses and do the right thing."
Abbas' Ra'am Party agreed to support the bill, N12 reported on Tuesday. but the situation has become more tenuous since Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi said on Thursday that she would be departing the coalition — Leaving Bennett's faction with 59 MKs to the opposition's 61.
Hope for scholarship vote
"We can all hope for the best… it’s a shame that released soldiers are taken hostage in political disputes, but apart from leveraging the opposition, not much we can do," said a commenter in the lone soldier Facebook group.
Another was more optimistic, saying that while they hope it passes, "if it doesn’t there’s a ton of scholarships online for lone soldiers, olim chadashim [new immigrants], and for volunteering."
The Ecuadorian lone soldier said to the Post that it was too late for those currently studying to seek new scholarships, and many had already paid for tuition that they thought they would be reimbursed for. They confided that many soldiers were keeping quiet about the problem, as many are still serving soldiers or had been in intelligence units
"If the law does not pass, many released soldiers who will have failed to pay tuition will not be allowed to take their tests or receive a diploma. After a year of hard work, many will be forced to interrupt or abandon their studies altogether," said the former lone soldier from Ecuador. "I might not be a lone soldier anymore, but I do feel like a helpless lone citizen."