A new, expanded budget is necessary in order to take care of defense needs as
well as the demands of social protests, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on
Tuesday, in opposition to the government’s official position.
Barak to protest leaders: 'I favor increasing budget'
after Barak’s testimony at the Knesset Finance Committee, Finance Minister Yuval
Steinitz, who spoke before the committee on Monday, slammed Barak’s “populist
Gantz slams proposed defense budget cuts
The defense minister asked the committee not to cut his
budget, giving an overview of the major threats Israel is facing: “Hamas in
Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran in the background, and the potential for the
creation of additional threats.”
He also pointed out that “upheaval in
the Arab world has brought changes that are hard to predict. The trials before
us are not simple, and no one can know where they will lead.”
At the same
time, Barak reassured committee members that “Israel is still the strongest
state in the Middle East, from Tripoli to Tehran, and will continue to be the
strongest as long as we continue to be responsible.”
The defense minister
also emphasized the importance of properly responding to this summer’s social
protests, which he described as “one of the most important and exciting things
that happened to Israel in recent years.”
“We need a ‘New Deal’ between
the government and society,” Barak said, referring to US policies during the
Great Depression. “The protesters demand answers from us, as their
representatives. We have to find simple answers and not try to whitewash
In addition, Barak pointed out that there is a “worldwide
recession that is already beginning to reach our shores and will change the
According to the defense minister, the common
denominator between these three factors – external threats, social protests, and
a recession – is resources.
The government seeks to deal with these
issues without breaking the budgetary framework and cutting the defense budget,
“You can lower the defense budget. No one is saying that
there isn’t what to reduce in an NIS 40 billion budget – we can find corners to
cut,” he stated.
“But we cannot fool ourselves that these cuts will bring
billions that will be wasted.”
The defense minister said that if he could
choose where defense funds would be reallocated, it would be to early childhood
education, which, in his opinion, is the most important article in the
Trajtenberg Report on socioeconomic reform.
In order to deal with the
threats and demands the country is facing, Barak suggested that the government
spend beyond its budget.
“We will not succeed in filling the minimal
demands for the State of Israel – to responsibly take care of defense, and the
demands of the social protest, and the world recession – within the current
budget,” he said.
“I don’t claim to be omniscient, but from what I
understand, we should increase the budget. In the long term, a nation cannot
continually spend more than it has,” the defense minister explained, “but at the
same time, if your roof is leaking, you fix it first, and then figure out how to
cover the expense.
“If a family member is sick, you take care of him even
if it’s expensive, because he won’t live if you wait to save money.
same is true for a nation. In times of crisis, we need to take care of the human
infrastructure first,” Barak added.
“Beyond macroeconomics, there are
people, groups, infrastructure and defense that we need to give attention to. If
we do, then the market will improve.” However, the state should think twice
before cutting defense funds, “because life comes even before quality of life,”
The defense minister reassured the committee that “even
important economists and the heads of major financial bodies warned not to panic
or fall victim to uncertainty. The ‘austerity trick’ will only make us
Later Tuesday, Steinitz responded to Barak, saying that
“Israel dealt with the economic crisis and managed to return to growth thanks to
the economic policy of the government and finance ministry, which emphasized
“Populist suggestions that we break the budget are
likely to lead to economic deterioration and to mass unemployment,” he
Kadima, meanwhile, announced that it requested for its bill to
cancel the two-year budget be brought to a vote as soon as possible in an
“In order to give a real response to the demands for
social justice, it is not enough to make cosmetic changes in the budget,” the
party’s request to the Knesset House Committee reads. “A new budget would
reflect changes in priorities that will help resolve the economic and social
crisis in Israel.”
The Ministerial Committee on Legislation will review
the bill, which it is expected to reject, on Sunday.Nadav Shemer
contributed to this report.