A new coalition bill to be submitted this coming Monday entitles IDF combat veterans who enlisted after June 1, 2013 and were honorably discharged after completing their service, to enroll in Israel’s version of the GI Bill, the “Mimadim Le’limudim” (from uniform to studies) program that will pay two-thirds of their college tuition for the first and second degrees. The program is more complex and includes expectations of doing 60 hours of community service each year the grant recipient is enrolled, as well as five days of reserves duty each year.
The bill can’t pass without support from the opposition parties, because Ra’am is probably not going to support it, as it has stated on Wednesday. It makes sense, in the current political climate, that an Islamist party would see a bill favoring IDF combatants as a poison pill that could cost them the next elections. But according to several Israeli media outlets, the Likud, too, plans to withhold its support for the bill, or, rather, it has announced that if the bill is presented to the Knesset on Monday, as promised by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, they would hold a faction debate on supporting it.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday went after his political rivals with the traditional torch and hoe, tweeting sarcastically: “I understand why ]Joint Arab List Chairman] Ayman Odeh opposes the Mimadim Le’limudim law, which grants scholarships to veterans of combat units. But why Netanyahu joined him against the law is difficult to understand. Please, understand that failure to pass the law will not topple the government, it will only punish IDF fighters who are released at the beginning of their life’s journey, and who will have to pay tens of thousands of shekels that they do not have.”
MK Yoav Kisch (Likud) was sent on Wednesday to respond to Bennett’s attack on 103FM and told the host Erel Segal he was against the bill because it only pays 65% of the veterans’ tuition. Honestly? He sounded like a protester outside Bennett’s Ra’anana home when he piled it on: “The Likud is fighting for 100% funding for the combatants. If the coalition gives that, it will pass. Now they’re trying to give the money and help, after they paid 50 billion shekels to Abbas and spent 50 million on Bennett’s home, they won’t give the additional NIS 50 million to the combatants and they want them to be satisfied with only part of it.”
Kisch was asked how come Likud never offered any tuition coverage for veterans and he said they did, NIS 600 million for combat vets and half of that for non-combatants, but didn’t account for why it never made it into law. He finally stopped pretending this was about soldiers’ benefits and spoke the truth: “Let the coalition pass whatever it wants to pass, we are the opposition, and therefore our legitimate right is to oppose everything. If they want our support, let them accept our requirements. If not? Let them do what they want.”
That was so much more honest.
Kisch’s faction colleague Yoav Galant told 103FM he opposed Likud’s position on the bill and would have voted for the coalition proposal as is, at 65% of tuition, but he won’t vote against the opposition should it decide to defeat the bill. He also pointed out that in the long run, it’s more important to topple the Bennett government than pass the Israeli GI bill.
Bennett for his part also tweeted that only a few days earlier, the opposition supported his bill to compensate businesses that encountered major losses during the Omicron wave of the pandemic. “You helped us support businesses but you stop at IDF soldiers?” he taunted them, also sounding like the folks who demonstrate in front of his home in Ra’anana.
Both Ra’am and the Likud plan to confer (separately) before Monday’s vote, and either party could change its mind. As usual, both the opposition and the coalition members are capable of switching their positions radically compared to what those were only a year ago when the coalition was in the opposition and vice versa.