Netanyahu Quietly Puts Contested Kollel Funding into Budget
Opposition blasts PM for granting 111 million shekels to yeshiva students while pretending to seek a compromise on stipends.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 10/25/2010, 10:06 PM / Last Update: 10/25/2010, 10:03 PM
The opposition Kadima party slammed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Monday for his alleged contempt for a High Court ruling regarding stipends for adults who are full time students at yeshivas. The party's statement was issued after media reported that the government had quietly added a sum of 110,885,000 shekels to the Education Ministry's budget for 2011 under the heading “minimum income insurance for kollel students.”
Kadima accused Netanyahu of “cynicism” and “chutzpah.”
The funding is seen as a way of circumventing a High Court decision that found the payment of state stipends to adult full-time students (known as avrechim) at the yeshivas geared for them (known as kollels) to be illegal. The court determined that payment of the stipends discriminates against students at other institutes of higher learning, like universities and colleges, and instructed the state to grant similar stipends to students at all institutes of higher learning, or to cease paying the hareidi students.
The High Court decision prompted hareidi-religious party United Torah Judaism to initiate a bill that would obligate the state to pay the stipends, by law. This initiative, in turn, created a loud public debate, with many secular politicians and media personalities venting anger at the entire hareidi population. The Prime Minister seemed to successfully quell the furor Monday morning when he announced the formation of a committee to decide the dispute. A few hours later, however, it turned out that the funds for kollel students had been worked into the budget.
The Prime Minister's Office responded to the accusations by stating that “the Government is operating in accordance with the High Court's instruction to codify in legislation the insurance for avrechim. At the same time, the government is operating to encourage professional training for avrechim and their entry into employment.”
The PMO promised that by the end of the year, before the Knesset grants final approval to the state budget, the government will determine a legal formula for distribution of the stipends in accordance with the High Court ruling. If this process is not completed by the time the budget is approved, the PMO added, the finds earmarked for the hareidim will be deposited in the Treasury's reserves.