The Knesset approved the first reading of the 2011-2012 state budget late on Monday night with 62 MKs voting for the measure and 34 opposing it, despite an ongoing dispute inside the coalition over stipends for haredi kollel students.

Labor leadership candidate Avishay Braverman was joined by Labor MKs Amir Peretz and Eitan Cabel in boycotted the vote to protest the inclusion of an allocation of nearly NIS 111 million for the stipends in the draft budget. He accused Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of misleading the public by forming a committee on Sunday to discuss whether to allocate the stipends and then including them in the budget the following day.

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“The prime minister and the haredi factions are engaged in parliamentary thievery by enabling a vote on the stipends without proper deliberations,” Braverman said. “On such a sensitive issue, I expected the prime minister to behave more consistently. There is no sense in voting for the budget tonight before the matter is discussed.

“The rules of proper management require different behavior.”

Kadima went further, accusing Netanyahu of “lying disgracefully” and “breaking a new record for cynicism, chutzpa, and disrespect toward the Israeli public.”

The Prime Minister’s Office and the Finance Ministry issued clarifications, saying the stipends were placed in the budget for the first vote but would not be included in the final readings of the budget bill if they were not legislated by then.

“The government is acting to legislate the stipends as the High Court of Justice requested,” Netanyahu’s spokesman Nir Hefetz said. “The legislation will be passed by the time the budget is brought to a final vote. If the issue is not legislated by then, the allocation will be set aside in the Treasury’s reserves.”

United Torah Judaism MKs met with Netanyahu’s advisers at the Knesset and asked for immediate solutions, not only for the stipend issue but also for the housing shortage for young haredi couples. They also requested that the core curriculum not be required in the Ashkenazi haredi school system.

A spokeswoman for UTJ said the faction voted in favor despite the demands.

Earlier on Monday, the prime minister spoke about the two-year budget at the Likud’s faction meeting.

“The fact that Israel’s economy is doing better than much of the world in the midst of the international crisis is because of our stability and our creativity, which is reflected in our two-year budget,” Netanyahu said.

The prime minister went on in his speech to explain two new budget measures that the government was eager to pass.

“There are two main revelations in the new budget,” Netanyahu said. “One is to improve Israel’s physical infrastructure with NIS 1.5 billion for paving roads and expanding train lines in the North and South.

“The other is to strengthen our human infrastructure, with half a billion shekels for 900 new computerized classrooms, one year of free tuition for college students in the North and South, and special grants to encourage Israeli academics living abroad to return home to pursue their careers.”

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