Hundreds of student protesters march to Jerusalem

Demonstration held outside PM's house; Tamir: Shochat Committee will continue its work.

student demo jlem 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
student demo jlem 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Hundreds of students marched to Jerusalem on Thursday as the two national unions, the National Union of Israeli Students and the National Students Organization, continued their joint protest efforts against the Shochat Committee's planned reforms. The university strike continued unabated for its 27th and the student unions had vowed to raise the "severity" of their protests. The unions organized three large car and bus caravans that left Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba at 3 p.m. headed for the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood. The convoys gathered at 5 p.m. at the Shoresh Junction, and continued to the entrance to the city, where students disembarked to complete the trip on foot. "The students are going up to Jerusalem to stand before the prime minister's residence and ask him to intervene quickly and find an immediate solution to the serious crisis that has developed in the education and higher education systems," read a statement released by the unions on Wednesday announcing the demonstration. In addition, a group of some 40 students of veterinary medicine from Hebrew University's Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences in Rehovot launched a march from Beit Dagan to Jerusalem Wednesday, which is also expected to end on Thursday afternoon in front of the prime minister's residence. "We're sick of sitting quietly, so instead of joining protests, we decided to demonstrate with our feet," explained veterinary medicine student Erez Biton. A group of 40 students at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba set up a tent outside the city's government compound on Wednesday and pledged to begin a hunger strike Thursday to bring more pressure to bear on the government. Student union leaders have expressed support for their activities, while the Beersheba group called on students across the country to join them in their protest of the Shochat Committee. Meanwhile, Education Minister Yuli Tamir met with students from Ben-Gurion University in Eilat on Thursday. Tamir pledged that the Shochat Committee would continue its work and achieve its goals. The nationwide strike, which has affected some 250,000 students in all the universities and most of the country's colleges, continued after a breakdown earlier in the week of compromise discussions between the national student unions and the Prime Minister's Office. When the PMO appealed to the leaders of individual campus student unions to sign separate compromises with the government, the national unions called a meeting late Monday of all the unions. In a vote, all but one of the assembled union heads agreed to reject the compromise offer, while the sole dissenting group, the Technion Student Organization, agreed to abide by the decision of the majority. The compromise would have frozen tuition at the current level of NIS 8,588 for the 5768 (2007-2008) academic year, while allowing current students to finish their degrees at that level. For new students, however, after the 5768 academic year, their tuition would follow the tuition scheme developed by the Shochat Committee. "Their insistence on raising tuition fees and a setting up a destructive mechanism for the educational establishment is plain to see. Classes will not resume, and protests will continue until the government's sanity is restored or until its complete collapse," read a statement released by the National Union of Israeli Students. Meanwhile, Bar-Ilan University President Prof. Moshe Kaveh warned on Tuesday that the student strike, which had already cost one-third of the current semester, would lead to a cancellation of the entire semester if the students didn't return to their classes. "The Committee of University Presidents [which Kaveh chairs] has not given an ultimatum to the students," he contended of the threat by the presidents to give failing grades for the semester to students who had not returned to class by Tuesday morning.