Budget set to pass despite UTJ anger

IDF Conversion Bill also heads to House Committee United Torah Judaism MK incensed that PM advanced IDF Conversions Bill; threatens to take revenge on the coalition by not passing budget.

December 28, 2010 12:18
3 minute read.
Moshe Gafni.

moshe gafni 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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Despite Finance Committee chairman and UTJ MK Moshe Gafni’s fury that the IDF Conversion Bill had been advanced behind his back, the coalition was poised to pass the biennial state budget as planned on Wednesday.

The haredi parties were highly frustrated that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had given in to Israel Beiteinu’s pressure to advance the bill before the budget was approved. Still, that was not enough to stall the budget’s progress.

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Indeed, Kadima decided to advance the vote on the 2011/12 budget, in a surprise move meant to put time pressure on coalition members to work out their differences.

Netanyahu decided late on Monday night to give in to Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman’s demands to hold a procedural vote on the IDF Conversion Bill in the House Committee on Tuesday morning, despite adamant opposition to the bill’s advancement from haredi factions. The bill, which seeks to provide a legal basis for IDF conversions independent of the Chief Rabbinate, had been stalled while waiting for House Committee members to assign it to a committee for its required hearings.

Although Israel Beiteinu’s representatives repeatedly reiterated that they had not threatened the prime minister over the Conversion Bill, Likud officials said that Lieberman’s party had warned that it would boycott Wednesday’s budget vote if the bill were not advanced.

Gafni complained during Tuesday morning’s House Committee meeting that Netanyahu had tricked him into passing the biannual budget in the Finance Committee and then hours later advanced the IDF Conversion Bill, which Gafni opposed. Gafni and fellow United Torah Judaism MK Menahem Eliezer Moses threatened to take revenge on the coalition during Wednesday’s plenum vote to pass the biannual budget, but despite opposition by Shas and UTJ, the committee voted to assign the bill to the Israel Beiteinu-controlled Law and Constitution Committee.

“I worked hard for the prime minister and for the coalition to pass the budget through my committee, even though there were parts to which I was morally opposed, for the good of the coalition,” Gafni said.

Soon after the House Committee meeting, Gafni met with legal advisers to determine whether he could take the budget back off of the house floor to be reviewed by his committee, but was told that he could not do so.

Gafni, whose panel is charged with approving nearly every allocation made by the government, canceled his committee’s Tuesday hearings in protest.

Gafni and fellow UTJ MK Uri Maklev met later on Tuesday with Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the most prominent leader of the Lithuanianharedi community, to ask whether the party should remain in the coalition. Elyashiv reportedly told the two lawmakers that the faction should remain in the government, despite the Conversion Bill’s advancement.

Netanyahu also met with Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman (UTJ), to try and quiet the crisis before the budget vote.

Although Shas has stood at the forefront of opposition to the bill, sponsored by Israel Beiteinu MKs David Rotem and Robert Ilatov, the Sephardic haredi party was much more moderated in its response to Tuesday’s House Committee vote.

Shas MK Nissim Ze’ev was a vocal opponent of the bill during the committee hearing, but he stopped short of threatening a coalition crisis in advance of the budget vote. Instead, he said that Shas believed a solution to the IDF conversions crisis could be found before the bill advanced any further.

On Tuesday night, Shas sources announced that the government had reversed its initial opposition to a key Shas bill, presented by MK Yitzhak Vaknin. Although they did not link the announcement to Shas’s loyalty on the budget, the Prime Minister’s Office reportedly told party chairman Eli Yishai that the coalition would support Vaknin’s bill to give new benefits to young couples who want to buy homes in the periphery.

The government had previously opposed the bill because of its cost.

Seeking to capitalize on the tensions within the coalition, Kadima decided that it would advance the vote on the budget to 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning, forcing coalition MKs to spend the night trying to settle their remaining disagreements.

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