Fault lines exposed

Israeli government’s budget set to pass

Netanyahu boasts coalition 'will last all four of its years'.

Benjamin Netanyahu, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, and other coalition party heads. Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Benjamin Netanyahu, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, and other coalition party heads. Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Looking to project political stability, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday thanked coalition partners for coming together to pass the 2023-2024 state budget, hours before it was expected to sail through its final two votes in the Knesset.

“I think our ability to do this comes from our collaboration between friends,” Netanyahu stressed in remarks delivered at the parliament building, calling out his fellow coalition leaders by name after days of wrangling over the budget.

“This government will last all four of its years,” he added, in a comment directed to opposition politicians.

However, the budget process again highlighted fault lines within the hardline government, with parts of three parties publicly pulling their support for the budget unless handed additional funding allocations. Two of the three issues were resolved on Monday, locking up the majority needed to pass the budget in its final two floor votes, days ahead of its May 29 deadline.

Flanked by coalition leaders, Netanyahu said the two-year, trillion shekel ($A409¬†billion) plan will positively “surprise” the public, amid criticism that it channels funds to sectoral interests but does not do enough to fight Israel’s rising cost of living.

“We are fighting on all fronts. We are active in the fight against cost of living,” the premier said, in remarks made alongside his coalition partners.

The comments elicited a fiery response from opposition leader Yair Lapid, who echoed criticism that the budget was geared toward political interests but does not include measures to address rising prices.

“This government is terrible for the economy. It said it would reduce cost of living, there’s nothing connected to cost of living in this budget. There is no reform to reduce cost of living,” Lapid said.

“This budget is reckless, it’s a disaster for the Israeli economy and for Israeli society, and it violates the social contract with the State of Israel that we, our children, and our children’s children will pay for,” he charged.

The opposition leader has routinely attacked the government’s allocation of NIS 13.7 billion ($A5.6 billion) in discretionary funding, largely to sectoral interests. Among them are generous budgets for funding religious scholars and schools, whose studies often do not enable them to succeed in the workforce.

“Think about what could have been possible with that money, instead of condemning a full generation to poverty. What they’re doing now says not just Charedi children will be condemned to poverty, also our children, this will be the first generation in Israeli history where children will be poorer than their parents,” Lapid said.

As the Knesset began voting on the budget, thousands of protesters gathered in Jerusalem, waving Israeli flags and chanting against the government “looting” the state coffers. Demonstrators similarly criticised the budget for funnelling billions in grants to the ultra-Orthodox community, while allowing men in that community to avoid employment and military service.

The budget allocates at least NIS 5.9 billion ($A2.4 billion) in discretionary funding to satisfy political promises to ultra-Orthodox parties, including grants to yeshivah students, unregulated religious schools that do not teach core subjects like math and science, and funding a food stamp program that is not tied to working and criticised as tailored to disproportionately benefit the ultra-Orthodox community.

Netanyahu and Smotrich agreed on Monday to fund expanded stipends to yeshivah students to the tune of up to NIS 250 million ($A102 million), using any surplus funds left over from ultra-Orthodox schools.

Netanyahu and Smotrich secured the last of the votes needed to pass the state budget by making a similar promise to far-right party Otzma Yehudit on Monday evening.


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