JERUSALEM (May. 19)
A Cabinet decision Sunday to establish a two-tier tuition system at the universities threw Israel into a broiling new controversy this week and created another area of conflict between Labor and Likud.
The Cabinet voted 12-11 in favor of an annual fee of $1,050 for veterans of the Israel Defense Force and $1,550 for all other students. The vote was split along party lines, with Labor opposed and the religious parties joining Likud.
Charges of “racism” and “discrimination” were hurled at supporters of the measure because Arab students who are barred by law from serving in the armed forces will be forced to pay the higher fee. But Likud Ministers argued that the majority of those affected are not Arabs but newly arrived immigrants and women.
Premier Yitzhak Shamir told an angry Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee Monday that the criticism was politically motivated. He reacted furiously to a charge by MK Yossi Sarid of the Citizens Rights Movement (CRM) that the government is “a contemptible bunch of racists.”
The CRM has introduced a motion of non-confidence.
Minister-Without-Portfolio Moshe Arens, who is in charge of dealing with Israel’s Arab population, said the decision was justified but hinted that it was always possible to change it. Geula Cohen of the ultra-nationalist Tehiya Party said the State owed something to students who had served in the army. Minister of Commerce and Industry Ariel Sharon suggested that the proper way to cope with the issue was to enlist Arabs into the IDF so they could enjoy the same benefits.
TURMOIL ON CAMPUSES
Meanwhile, there was turmoil on the campuses. The Hebrew University and Haifa University said they would ignore the Cabinet decision. The chairman of the National Students Union appealed to the Supreme Court to challenge its legality. The Supreme Court in the past has reversed decisions to pay social benefits on different scales based on military service.
Likud Liberal Gideon Patt, the Minister of Science and Industry, was prevented by hecklers from delivering his commencement day address at the Hebrew University Monday. Patt said only a third of the students required to pay the higher fee would be Arabs.
Earlier, faculty and student leaders held a meeting calling for equal fees for all students. Two Arab MKs called for drastic measures. Mohammad Watad of Mapam urged a civil disobedience campaign. Abdul Wahab of Labor said he would quit the coalition bloc.
The Israel Citizens Rights Association published a statement warning that the two tuition levels would create a breach between Arab and Jewish students. The mayor of the Arab village of Taibe said the decision “smelled of racism and elections.”
ANTICIPATION OF EARLY ELECTIONS
In fact, many observers believe it was pushed through the Cabinet by Likud in anticipation of early elections. Both sets of fees are far lower than students had expected or that the Treasury had recommended. Education Minister Yitzhak Navon, a Laborite, had proposed to the Cabinet an annual tuition fee of $1,120 for all students. That would have necessitated an infusion of $25.5 million in the form of government subsidies to higher education.
Moshe Manni, president of the Hebrew University, called the Cabinet decision “stupid” not only because it was discriminatory but because it would not even “begin to answer” the financial needs of the universities.
“I would like to go on record that no university that respects itself is going to agree to, nor act as a tool for discriminatory attitudes,” he said. The universities estimate an annual tuition fee of $1,700 is needed at minimum because no additional funds will come from the government.