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Israel: Students battle against fees and cutbacks
ISRAELI STUDENTS have taken to the streets in a battle against the government over rises in tuition fees, education cuts of up to NIS 1.2 billion ($215 million), and the privatisation of education.
250,000 students have been on strike for over four weeks. Thousands have participated in demonstrations which, undeterred by the beatings of mounted police, have broken past police lines and blocked highways.
This strike comes at a time of unprecedented turmoil in Israeli society. The Winograd commission's report into last year's Lebanon War harshly criticised Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and defence minister Amir Peretz's conduct during the war, hammering their popularity ratings which were already at a mere 3%. 100,000 demonstrators called for Olmert's resignation on 3 May. Even Olmert's foreign minister called for him to resign.
The Israeli political elite is riven with scandal. President Moshe Katzav was forced to suspend himself from office as a result of the ongoing police investigation into multiple cases of sexual harassment and rape of female subordinates. Finance minister Avraham Hirschonson was forced to resign due to the ongoing investigation into embezzlement of millions of dollars from an organisation to commemorate holocaust victims and from the Histudruth (a social insurance and trade union federation).
Olmert himself is under investigation on multiple charges of corruption, including the purchase of his Jerusalem apartment for a fraction of its market value from a capitalist benefactor.
The rot at the top, together with the debacle of the Lebanon war, feeds a general feeling in society that the government are a band of criminals who are only looking after themselves, and that the only way to change things is through struggle.
Wave after wave of workers have gone on strike against the government's attempt to make them pay for the crisis. The postal contractors have take action for permanent status. Security guards have taken action against their appalling work conditions and for the right to organise.
Electricity workers are currently in a struggle against plans to privatise their company. Bus drivers recently took strike action for better work conditions. Council workers were at the centre of the recent general strike against non-payment of wages. Temporary workers at the airport took action to save their jobs and secondary school teachers are currently on strike.
The student strike is the result of pressure from below, as rank and file students rejected a sell-out agreed by the student union leadership following the previous strike in January.
Israeli Palestinian students have played an important role in the struggle alongside their Jewish classmates, in marked contrast to the racist incitement dominating the Israeli media.
The crisis of the Israeli political elite has led to a rapid radicalisation of the struggle which has quickly moved beyond its initial limited defensive aims of stopping fee increases.
Unlike the big student movement of 1998, there is no credible opposition party which can divert the movement into 'safe' channels. This radicalisation terrifies the Israeli ruling class.
The liberal Haaretz newspaper published an editorial on 6 May condemning the strike and the students for "employing irrelevant, revolutionary slogans against 'capitalism,' 'privatisation' and 'capitalists', and also, of course, against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert".
Government attempts to diffuse the strike by postponing fee increases until after current students have graduated were rejected by student leaders under pressure from below. The leaders of the Beer Sheva students' union were forced to resign after they had made an agreement to end the strike with the university administration. The agreement was overturned by a demonstration of 500 students demanding no sell-out.
The university presidents have tried to break the strike by threatening to force any students who do not return to their studies to redo the entire term. The lecturers' unions have condemned these threats and come out in support of the students. The students responded by intensifying the strike, blockading campus entrances with chains and barbed wire.
Maavak Sozialisti (CWI, Israel) has members on five campuses and intervened in the main demonstrations. Our effect was far greater than our numbers with our slogan - "Free education for all" - enthusiastically taken up.
In the past our red shirts make us conspicuous on demonstrations. But in the student demos nearly everyone wears red! Israeli TV news covered our contingent on the May Day demonstration and carried a short interview with one of our activists.
This strike, which has now reached a critical juncture, marks a sharp escalation in the tempo of the struggle in Israel. Even if the strike begins to lose steam, its radicalising effect on students has laid the basis for a renewal of the campaign next term.
For more on the Israeli students' struggle see article Israel: The 'red revolution' for free education on CWI website socialistworld.net.
The 'Red Revolution'
ANOTHER MASSIVE student demonstration, with road-blocks on Mayday. Thirty-three arrested. Maavak Sozialisti members were among the most radical, combative section of the demonstration. This demonstration, like the others, lasted six hours but this time we had to climb into the hills to escape the baton charges of the cops. A lot of students said: "It's like what the Palestinians face in the territories."
Channel 1 TV, which is the state channel here, said on its evening news bulletin: "The students promise that what we see is only the beginning of the Red Revolution."
Eyal Atzei-Pri, Maavak Sozialisti and member of Seminar Ha'Kibbutzim College's strike committee
In The Socialist 17 May 2007:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
International Socialist Resistance
Campaign for a New Workers Party
International socialist news
Socialist Party election campaign
Socialist Party workplace news