The Knesset on Wednesday advanced through a preliminary reading a bill that would grant combat veterans free tuition for all three years of their undergraduate studies at public universities.
The Likud-sponsored legislation — passed overwhelmingly in a 75-7 vote — is an amendment to a law passed with coalition and opposition support under the previous government that raised the scholarships to cover 75 percent of tuition costs instead of 67%.
Dubbed “From Uniform to Studies,” the popular program became a political football last summer when Likud tried to torpedo its funding as part of its pressure campaign to hasten the end of the previous government.
Likud’s Miri Regev sparked an uproar at the time when she was caught on tape telling her fellow faction members to stop worrying about taking care of soldiers, because the primary goal was to be a “fighting opposition” and bring down the government.
Likud had publicly claimed during the previous government that it opposed the bill not for political reasons, but because it wanted to raise the 67% funding level to full funding. Shortly thereafter, Likud and the then-coalition reached a compromise to raise funding to 75% in order to pass the bill and get the IDF veterans their scholarships, which were late for the school year.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party campaigned ahead of November’s election on granting free tuition to combat veterans and took one step closer toward making good on the promise with Wednesday’s vote.
But the conduct enraged several opposition members, who criticized Likud MKs for failing to back the initiative when they had been in the opposition.
“You didn’t want to vote for it, because the goal was above all to [topple the government],” said Yisrael Beytenu MK Evgeny Sova during a plenum debate before the vote. “It’s good that this bill is happening,” he added, “but don’t claim it’s you who took care of soldiers.”
When the scholarship program began in 2016, its creators made a deliberate decision not to fully fund the scholarships to leave space for student self-funding, in order to create a sense of obligation for recipients to finish school.
The scholarships were intended to make educational opportunities more accessible to soldiers without means. In addition to combat soldiers, the program is open to troops from economically disadvantaged homes, including Druze and Arab soldiers, “lone soldiers” who serve without immediate family in Israel, and new immigrants.