Ordinary students support the strike

Support for the strikes runs deeper than the student unions' political leadership.

Halfway through its second week, the student strike that has shut down Israel's universities and colleges has a lot of strength left to go, if the conversation among the students is any indication. While National Union of Israeli Students head Itay Shonshine spoke with gusto about the Shochat Committee's "right-wing economic views" and believed the committee was certain to recommend raising tuition - "[committee chairman Avraham] Beige Shochat already said it would rise" - it was conversations with ordinary students that showed that support for the strikes ran deeper than the student unions' political leadership. "The education minister [Yuli Tamir] lied to the voter," insisted Hebrew University chemistry major Moshe Ben Shoshan. "She was at a conference at [the Hebrew University campus at] Givat Ram before the elections, and she talked about a social agenda, saying the government would not raise tuition," he said, echoing Shonshine's view that tuition would be raised for most students. Ben Shoshan doesn't necessarily trust the unions on political issues - "they're controlled by people close to Kadima," he complains - but he's fully behind them when it comes to the current strikes. If tuition is raised, he believes "people I know won't be able to do a masters degree. The average student won't be able to fund their studies. Poor students just won't be students anymore." Ben Shoshan also agrees with the unions on the question of blame. The unions insist Tamir and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are the cause of the crisis and have demanded a meeting with the prime minister. Ben Shoshan similarly blames the "dishonesty" of the current political leadership for the current crisis. "She lied to the voter," he said of Tamir, "when she promised students wouldn't be hurt. But then again, the head of the Labor party promised $1000 minimum wage, and their first law was to raise the price of bread. The direction is obvious." While students demonstrated throughout Beersheba's intersections and along the Ayalon highway Thursday, Tel Aviv University archaeology and sociology student Carmel Sivan felt guilty that he had to work and could not join "the struggle." If anything, he says, the student unions' goals were too small. "I think the problem with this struggle, as with most of the fights in this country, is that it isn't connected to a general ideology, to a broader idea of equality," he believes. But he still "undoubtedly" supports the strikes "because I think that beyond the question of raising tuition - and I have a clear opinion on this - the idea that you can establish a [state] committee whose conclusions are preordained is dishonest and misses the true purpose of state committees. It's not a fair solution." Anna Usvitsky, a Masters student in psychology at Hebrew University, says she doesn't know "if I agree with the strike ideologically," since she's distrustful of the "socialist motives behind it." But, she adds, while she has shied away from the rallies, she hasn't formed strong opinions on the issue and does not oppose the actions of the unions. "They got a larger turnout than they expected at the demonstrations," she notes. Speaking of the unions' campaigns to bring students to the rallies, she hints at one possible cause. "They gave me a popsicle," she summarizes, smiling.