Have you ever taken a colorful fun toy away from a toddler? The results usually aren’t pleasant. But if that toy cost a large amount of money every month and was toxic to the child (and other children exposed to your child), you would probably take it away. So why is it different when it comes to Israeli government spending on university education for new olim?
New olim protested across Israel last week in response to the Student Authority’s recent announcement that they were eliminating funding for the free tuition young people receive upon making aliya. The move comes in response to a $7.6 million dollar funding gap from the Jewish Agency and Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. But although this may unfortunately complicate life for many, in principle this is a step in the right direction.
While perhaps the important goal for Israel is to maintain a Jewish state in the historic Jewish homeland, it is unhealthy for the individual and society to create a culture that is enslaved to bureaucratic state funding, and in fact, we have seen just how detrimental such policies can become through multiple groups in Israeli society that are completely dependent on the government.
Oftentimes, some kind of financial assistance, ideally private funding, is important for young people making aliya, and in the state-funded aliya package there are indeed tax deductions, healthcare, Hebrew classes, and more. But free education? Free higher education is not a right, contrary to what students explicitly stated in interviews at the recent protest. Students from Westernized countries like England, the United States, Canada, and others, should not be entitled to free education simply because they are Jewish and move to Israel.
For the government to continue policies that provide free education encourages Jews to come to Israel not because it is the right thing to do, but because it’s easier. Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky stated in response to the protests that “No student shall be hurt…” and that protesters can continue their studies and “be good ambassadors for the State of Israel.” But why should the government footing their tuition have anything to do with them being “good ambassadors?” This infantilizes them. Instead, young people should be empowered to come up with alternative solutions themselves — whether it be loans, taking a job, or applying for numerous available scholarships.
And who said life in Israel is supposed to be easier for new olim (though it certainly is for some)? Theodor Herzl, David Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizmann, socialists that they were, did not work to establish the State of Israel because it was easy. They came to establish the State of Israel so that other Jews could be free to self-govern in their own country, in their own historic homeland.
The idea that one deserves free education merely for having been born Jewish creates a toxic entitlement mentality that in turn fosters a situation that simply cannot be maintained. Look no further than Greece for evidence of this. This unhealthy perspective hinders economic growth and creativity, to be sure, but it also threatens freedom. The more dependent people are on someone or something, the closer they are to being enslaved. Ask someone who’s carrying a crushing load of credit card debt, for instance – they feel enslaved to the credit card company, and indeed they are.
The perspective on higher education that views it as a right rather than a privilege is also unhealthy. And with the amount of private funding available, there is no reason why intelligent and driven students should not be able to generate some of their own funding for a degree in Israel. It is a simple fact of life that when one is forced to work for something, one learns the value of it. Giving people free education regardless of their academic ability or merit is unethical and insulting to the hard-working taxpayers of Israel who don’t get free tuition for their children (though it is significantly subsidized).
What if the Student Authority cut the funding for olim in higher education by a significant margin? Of the remaining funds, require that students from impoverished countries receive minimum need based aid, and that students from more affluent countries receive merit-based scholarships only. Perhaps in the future, the government could redirect some of the remaining funds to more intensive Hebrew courses or vocational training for those who can’t afford school at the present time. At the same time, not everyone is cut out for a university degree and there is no shame in that. The government should also work within existing resources (after a cut), to better educate students from countries in Europe and North America on the plethora of scholarships available to them for just such purposes.
This alternative, cutting the state funding thus empowering the individual would provide a more limited government in the academic sphere, foster competition, and inspire students to work for what they receive, which would nurture a more entrepreneurial spirit. This would benefit both the individuals and the state, by attracting those who are truly motivated to excel.
If the people of Israel wish to maintain a society in which Jews are self-governing, independent and free, we must allow citizens to rise and fall based on their true merits and hard work. This is a society in which one’s full potential can be realized.