The most feared and effective rebel group battling President Bashar al-Assad, the Islamist Nusra Front, is being eclipsed by a more radical jihadi force whose aims go far beyond overthrowing the Syrian leader. Article
Israeli students incensed by ultra-Orthodox benefit
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli university students on Tuesday demanded that the government drop plans to pay stipends to ultra-Orthodox Jews who study the Torah but do not work.
Protests over the so-called Yeshiva bill in the past week highlight growing Israeli resentment of the 600,000 ultra-Orthodox "haredim", who live almost entirely off state welfare benefits.
Several thousand students held a protest march in Jerusalem on Monday warning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu they were not "suckers" who would meekly accept what they regard as rank discrimination.
Netanyahu's coalition government relies for its survival on the support of ultra-religious parties, who have traditionally exacted a price from Israeli leaders for their backing, usually in the form of benefits for their own community.
Students holding strikes and protests on Tuesday were angered by reports that the government also has plans to tax their scholarships, in a little-noticed amendment to the omnibus enabling bill that accompanies the annual budget.
The leftwing daily Haaretz said the opposition Kadima party had exposed a government attempt to "sneak through" a new tax which student union chairman Itzik Shmueli warned would harm hundreds of thousands of students.
Left-wing opposition Meretz party member of the Knesset Ilan Gil-On said: "With one hand the government showers the ultra-Orthodox with funds while the other is emptying the students pockets."
DEANS BACK STUDENTS
The Yeshiva (religious seminary for men) bill for Haredi stipends would restore payments to the Torah student that were banned as discriminatory earlier this year by the High Court of Justice.
Senior figures at Jerusalem's Hebrew University on Sunday issued a statement saying the university leadership shares the concern of the students and backed their protests.
Netanyahu's office denied favouring the ultra-Orthodox.
"The government is acting on the issue of full-time, married, ultra-orthodox Yeshiva students as has been done over the past 30 years," it said in a statement.
"At the same time, the government is working to encourage professional training and the integration of the full-time, married, ultra-orthodox yeshiva students into the labor force."
"The cost of stipends to the ultra-Orthodox, which has existed for many years, is a mere NIS 120 million ($36 mln)," the statement said -- a tiny fraction of what Israel spends on higher education.
Economists warn that Israel, a country of 7.5 million people, cannot sustain indefinitely the burden of a non-working population whose numbers are forecast to double by 2022 to over one million.
Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar is demanding that Haredi schools receiving state funds must teach useful core subjects as well as religion, so that their students are equipped to contribute to Israel's economic future.
But Torah sages reject his demand as interference, saying only they have the authority to decide what will be taught.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Reform Movement, a modern-day stream of Judaism, said Haredi leaders were dooming students to "a life of ignorance, poverty and total separation from the general Israeli public, all under the fake cover of generations of Jewish tradition".
(Writing by Douglas Hamilton; editing by Diana Abdallah)
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