During these times of uncertainty, growing rifts and ongoing demonstrations against the government’s judicial reforms, young citizens have been on the streets for the first time since the social justice protests of 2010. A lot is at stake: the cost of living, the timeless debate regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the occupation, women’s rights, and much more. As the government is struggling to pass its annual budget by the end of May, the issue of the student’s place in the country’s hierarchy comes up.
Israel pays NIS 2.2 billion to support public universities. It thus decreases the tuition fee from NIS 35,000 to an average of 10,000 but the students themselves receive no funding.
A complex, common statement is that students in Israel are privileged; but, how can one claim students to be elite when the average monthly salary of working students in 2022 was NIS 4,967, 11% below the Israeli average minimum wage?
On the other hand, students cannot make ends meet without financial backing. The average student spends almost NIS 5,000 per month solely on housing, food and transportation, according to the National Union of Israeli Students (NUIS), which only recently joined the battle against the current events.
Students' interests in the national budget
The NUIS, led by controversial chairman Elchanan Felhimer, took it upon itself to fight for the students’ interests in the state budget. A national campaign appeared in the blink of an eye, telling the people that students are predicted to receive nothing from the government anytime soon.
Such a statement was somewhat surprising, as the NUIS remained silent during the past 20 weeks of growing demonstrations against dictatorial government intents in the judicial and social sectors, and in that void rose the Students’ Protest movement from within the campuses.
The upcoming budget will give the yeshivot a unique status of religious higher education, with funding of NIS 3.7 billion. In total, haredi education will receive NIS 5 billion.
The Israeli right-wing coalition is nourishing the haredi population, which is predicted to become one-fifth of the population by 2040. This population, at most, does not contribute to the country’s economics, development and global reputation, and does not pay taxes.
The Central Bureau of Statistics confirmed such statistics in a document from late 2020, stating that 90% of the mandatory payments to the state come from Jewish, non-haredi households, while the latter is responsible for only 2% of all taxpayer’s revenue.
As a young student, I fail to understand why studying social sciences, physics or psychology is inferior to studying the Talmud or Bible. I fail to understand why the employment rate in the haredi population is 25% lower than in the non-haredi Jewish sector.
I fail to understand why my friends and I are responsible for the country’s prosperity through our academic studies and hard work. Yet, we are also carrying the burden of living.
In times when religious Knesset members condition their support in exchange for money to be distributed unjustifiably and harmful to the state’s future, the young ones, as indifferent and success-seeking as they seem, must take it to the streets and fight to be heard and considered.
And if they also seize this opportunity to demand justice within the organization that has fallen under corrupted hands and failed to protect them so far, all the better.
The writer is a student in the Argov Fellows Program in Leadership and Diplomacy at Reichman University, and a founder and leader of the Students’ Protest against the judicial reforms. She is also a reservist IDF paratrooper instructor.