Oh Israel, How False Advertising Becomes You

The Student Authority is facing a slow and fidgety death. For immigrants to Israel going to school, it’s the closest encounter with Israel’s absurd bureaucratic culture they get. Unfortunately, it also manages their lives. Aside from the ideology and fortitude it took to get here, students get the opportunity to plan their financial and professional lives around free tuition that was openly and heavily advertised by the Jewish Agency and other pro-Aliyah institutions. After denying the funding cuts were coming several months back, the Student Authority is about to go bankrupt on new immigrants. It’s a disgrace and will hurt the country.

It hasn’t taken too long for word to get around – for the second time this year I’ll say again – that those promised funds for Bachelors’ and Masters’ degrees will be frozen. Denials followed the first story several months ago. I’m writing this before any official comments have hit the air. Even if the comments come out in denial again, the damage is done. Shares on Facebook and Twitter are making the rounds and scaring potential immigrants away.

Israeli institutions are rarely as honest as we hope they are. The Student Authority is my most unfortunate example. I learned last year that my decision to focus on “free” studies to get into my Master’s program was a mistake. While the Student Authority decides at the beginning of each academic year how much tuition they need to cover per student, they do not adjust those numbers in accordance with tuition changes made because of fluctuations in the Cost of Living Index. When that index changes, schools like Hebrew University adjust their tuition fees. The Student Authority does not follow suit. Additionally, because the Authority refuses to pay all that money at the beginning of the academic year, there is no way to circumvent the changes in tuition. For some the costs might be a difference in 50s, others hundreds of shekels. With an academic schedule, it’s impossible to find a full time job to work simultaneously. Part time work also isn’t easy to come by when you’re trapped in the dorms: Should I go to class and reschedule my job interview, or can I not afford that?

This is hardly about ungrateful students – a comment I’ve heard many uncomfortable times in government or university offices. It’s not even the financial incentives. It’s the insecurity. As immigrants, we all adjust at different paces. Some of us grab language more easily or were young enough to serve in the army first. Most of us miss out on some of the benefits we can have as students, simply because we’re not made aware of them. For instance, internet is virtually free for university students, but this is not advertised very well. The same goes for grocery discounts at local stores in Jerusalem. While many of us just pay our fees to get the burden off our backs, we aren’t getting what we pay for. It’s a mix of not knowing where to look, missing some of the details written in the new language we break our backs to learn, plus just plenty of people who really do take advantage of your immigrant handicaps.

Cutting tuition is not merely a scandal. It’s unethical. It’s a breach of contract and false advertising. If we weren’t entitled to such things, many of us would still move to Israel. We have plenty of reasons to make the shift in our lives. The financial and educational incentives just sweeten the deal. But thousands of students, 6,500 in the last four years, have built their lives around this promise. For some reason, freezing this aid is considered an ethical and legal move by the state. Whether or not restitution is made in the future for this gigantic shock to young, new Israelis’ lives, it will speak volumes about the dysfunction and unethical practices of a country many of our friends and family abroad are considering moving to. Students will decide to avoid the chaotic, indecisive and misleading advertisements trying to lure young people to the country. Brilliant people, recent graduates of undergraduate programs, will forego the chance to move to Israel to continue their academic careers or pursue advanced degrees that would certainly give Israel a tremendous advantage in all industries on a global scale.

Next week, students from Hebrew University will protest during the weekly cabinet meeting against the proposed cuts. The cabinet is going to have salvage the situation before it faces, cultural, financial and possibly a legal backlash.

About the Author
Gedalyah Reback is an experienced writer on technology, startups, the Middle East and Islam. He also focuses on issues of personal status in Judaism, namely conversion.