MKs called for Finance Minister Yair Lapid to make helping residents of the South after Operation Protective Edge his first priority, railing against budget cuts in a special Knesset meeting Thursday.
Shas leader Arye Deri accused Lapid of only helping residents of the Center, not the periphery, during the plenum discussion called by the opposition during the Knesset’s summer recess.
“In the periphery, in development towns, there is a large public that lives under the poverty line,” said Deri. “The finance minister comes and says on the Knesset’s stage that he isn’t going to help everyone, he’ll just put all the billions into those who ‘hold up the country.’ Those who live in the North and South, in development towns, whose children are combat soldiers in the IDF – they’re not holding up the country? Is their sin that their parents couldn’t get a higher education and high salary?”
According to Deri, the budget cuts will hurt the working poor and are a cruel additional burden on their already-difficult lives.
“Today, the finance minister is giving the bill for Operation Protective Edge to our children and grandchildren,” said Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On. “The education budget was cut – who supported that? Of course, the supposedly social-minded ministers of education, welfare and health.
Of course, the defense budget wasn’t cut, it was increased.
“What is this nonsense?” Gal- On asked. “The Defense Ministry wants NIS 20 billion in the next two years. We’ll turn into an army that has a country instead of a country that has an army.”
Gal-On said she agrees with Lapid’s policy of not raising taxes, saying most Israeli citizens do not have more to give, but demanded the government increase revenues by reducing tax breaks for the wealthy and major corporations.
MK Stav Shaffir (Labor) said Lapid is spending billions on populist policies rather than using the money to help residents of the South.
“We say to the people in the South that we support them and embrace them and they’re on the front lines. What support are we giving them?” she asked. “We need to turn the South in to the most attractive part of the country, not a place that people are running from. It’s easy to do. Use the money to build homes and give grants to young people who move South.”
Shaffir also brought up her oft-cited criticism of settlement funding. She argued that transferring NIS 70 million to religious authorities and psychological aid in the West Bank is “dancing on the blood” of the three boys who were kidnapped and murdered in Gush Etzion this summer, because the money was given on the grounds that more was needed following the incident.
“This is such dirty politics,” she proclaimed.
MK Yisrael Eichler (United Torah Judaism) said the government’s approval of a NIS 1.5b. aid package for Gaza border towns, but not cities in the South, is a sign of discrimination against haredim. The government plans to authorize aid to those cities later in the month.
“If we count the people who suffered in cities, it is many times more than those who suffered on the Gaza border,” Eichler said. “Therefore, it is a crime for the government not to help Ashdod and Ashkelon, and in my opinion, it is a sign of politics. Yesh Atid knows that it does not have many voters in Ashdod and Ashkelon and Netivot.”
Shas MK Yitzhak Cohen, a former deputy finance minister, expressed skepticism that any of Lapid’s economic policies will pass and said under the current political climate, he does not believe the 2015 budget will even get the required votes.
Lapid responded to the naysayers, declaring that his budget plans will help the South and the poor and the IDF, bring economic growth and lower the cost of living.
“Only nine days have passed since the rocket fire at the South ended... and I am sure that everyone here wants to help residents of the South,” the finance minster said. “Since the beginning of the operation we worked intensively to make sure they have economic stability. Unlike in previous operations, we passed an outline of an aid package during Operation Protective Edge, cutting through bureaucracy.”
Lapid pointed out that the NIS 1.5b. approved by the government this week was in addition to NIS 400m. given to residents of the South at the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, and that small business owners could get government-backed loans.
At the same time, Lapid said the government must strengthen the IDF, especially the Gaza operation, which cost billions.
“There are ways for the IDF to be more efficient, but we will not save one agora at the risk of our soldiers’ and citizens’ lives,” he said.
As for the cuts to most government ministries, Lapid said they would have a minimal impact on middle and lower income households. The finance minister repeated his vow that he will not raise taxes, telling the opposition to “stop treating Israelis like a cow that can be milked. There is no more milk.”
“Raising taxes does not give people hope for growth or encourage their entrepreneurship,” Lapid said. “The State of Israel is not in an economic crisis. I agree that there is a slowdown that needs to be taken care of. My responsibility is to make sure there is growth, and that is why this year and this year only we have to increase the deficit,” he explained.
“There are always people who fear change, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to make changes.”