10,000 protest in Jerusalem against yeshiva bill

Protest organized by National Student Union gathers under banner "we're not suckers"; Gafni spokesman calls rally "inappropriate."

Student Protest 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Student Protest 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Nearly 10,000 university students from across the country marched under the banner “We’re not suckers!” in Jerusalem on Monday night to show their opposition to the Knesset’s approval of stipends for married full-time yeshiva students.
“We hope that this protest will help a little to change this law,” Hebrew University Student Union president Yuval Admon told The Jerusalem Post.
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“We’re asking ourselves, how did we live with this law for so many years?” The protest was organized by the National Student Union and community groups in Jerusalem. Admon estimated that 150 buses of students came to the capital.
The protests against the approval, in first reading, of the 2011/2012 draft state budget, which includes the stipend funding, have gained the support of Hebrew University president Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson.
He said on Sunday that the university “shares the concern of students” over the measure.
A spokesman for Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) told the Post on Monday that while Gafni “doesn’t have anything against the students and has always tried to help them as much as possible,” the attempt to “incite against yeshiva students” and make a political issue out of the allotments “is inappropriate.”
Gafni proposed an amendment two weeks ago to include the stipends in the state budget, despite the High Court’s ruling in June that it was discriminatory to pay stipends to yeshiva students and not to university students.
The spokesman said the NIS 100 million in annual allotments have nothing at all to do with the expenses paid by students and are “the same as any special budget for particular segments of society, just like special budgets for the disabled or for veterans. This is a supplement meant to help the weakest, poorest segment of society, one that has high numbers of children and no income. They need our help.”
Gafni’s spokesman added that for students to say it’s a matter of equality is “nonsense.”
He said on average university students get significantly more funding from the state than yeshiva students.
According to the Ministry of Education, the number of yeshiva students getting stipends has quadrupled in the past four years, from 2650 in 1986 to more than 11,000 in 2009.
Monday’s street protesters marched from Kikar Tzarfat (Paris) near the Prime Minister’s Residence to Kikar Zion.
“Student = Yeshiva student minus 3 kids,” one sign read.
While the students were rallying in Jerusalem, the prime minister’s spokesman issued a statement defending its policy in regard to stipends for yeshiva students.
“The government is dealing with the issue of supplements for yeshiva students in the exact same way the government has for the past 30 years, and the supplements in question total the same sum approved by former governments,” the statement read.
The statement said the government is working on programs to encourage “professional training and assimilation into the workforce for yeshiva students.”
Thirty students also protested outside the Prime Minister’s Residence late on Sunday night, trying to read him a bedtime story from Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam. Two students were arrested when they tried to climb the fence. They were released on Monday afternoon.