Steinitz (L), Netanyahu, Sa'ar at edu. press conference_311.
(photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
government approved a plan on Sunday to provide free education for children between the
ages three and four, despite some opposition to the bill within the coalition.
The government convened to vote on the plan Sunday evening, where 21 ministers voted in favor and 8 voted against.
We are going toward our small children, from age three,
and we are bringing them into the free education law.
This has been spoken about for 63 years and still has not been done,
and here we are doing this as well. This is a welcome step.
We are helping young couples. We are helping weaker families.
We are helping working families. But first of all, [we are helping] young couples.
One must understand that this year there are 250,000,
a quarter of a million, children in this age bracket who will be included in the free studies law.
This is more than double what it was previously.
This is a very great addition and they will not pay anything.
With regard to free education, there has been a lot of confusion.
First of all, Israel Beiteinu supports the free education bill.
We think that this bill should be revised to include a difference in priorities.
By changes in priority, I am referring to what the prime minister has already said,
that the couples first receiving these benefits should have served in the army, should work and pay taxes.
The current bill doesn't give priority to these people.
The bill is welcome, but not for kids at age 3, but from birth.
The most important issue is education.
The argument is, from where should the funds come.
Should the money come from welfare funds, from social distress funds, or from health funds.
Or should it come from local authorities, that are also financially collapsing.
The local authorities are supposed to provide education, welfare, and health services.
So, the argument is from where these resources should be provided.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu obtained a majority for
the proposal when his chief of staff, Natan Eshel, reached an agreement
with Shas that secured the party's support. The party's four ministers
voted in favor because cutbacks to the Shas-controlled Interior and
Construction and Housing ministries were restored.
Israel Beiteinu ministers and three from Defense Minister Ehud Barak's
Independence faction voted against the decision. Barak opposed the move
due to cuts in his ministry's budget and because the Finance Ministry
refused to break the budget framework.
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Lieberman said his party's
ministers voted no because Arab and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) children were not excluded.
He said the benefits should only be given to children with two working
parents who served in the IDF.
"There is no need to fund Islamic Movement activists in Um el-Fahm and Sikrikim [haredi extremists] in Beit Shemesh," he said.
Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) responded that the benefits were "for
all children, regardless of who their parents are and what they do."
also faced criticism from United Torah Judaism, which doesn't have a
minister. UTJ's Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman complained that
Netanyahu, who holds the title of health minister, was cutting NIS 16
million from his own budget.
The prime minister's Likud rival,
Vice Premier Silvan Shalom, voted in favor after a substantial cut to
his Negev and Galilee Development Ministry was restored. But earlier, he
fiercely attacked the decision, calling it "delusional and
contemptible" and warning that it would deal a severe blow to the
weakest sectors of the population.
He said the periphery would
not benefit from the decision, because most of its development towns
already have free education, but it would be harmed by cutbacks to his
"The children of [Negev development towns like] Dimona
and Sderot will in effect fund free education for the children of
[wealthy communities like] Caesarea and Savyon," Shalom said. "This is
an absurd move that goes against common sense."
that the cuts to his ministry were political, saying "there are those
who want to assassinate me politically." Asked by Israel Radio whether
he would quit the cabinet in response to the cut, he said "it could be
that there are those who would want me to do that."
At the height
of the stormy debate over the budget cuts, Steinitz got into a shouting
match with IDF chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz. When Gantz
interrupted a Finance Ministry official who was explaining the cuts to
the IDF, Steinitz said that a soldier in uniform cannot make political
Gantz responded by telling Steinitz that he should show more respect to the IDF.
Last week, Netanyahu announced that the defense budget would be cut, along with those of all other ministries, in order to fund free education from age three.
Lieberman said on Friday that Netanyahu's plan is "insufficiently level-headed and examined, and was made haphazardly."
"The easiest thing to do is to cut all of the ministries, and take from
health, welfare and public security, but in that way, many citizens will
be harmed," he explained.
suggested that ministries' budgetary surpluses be used to fund early
childhood education, instead of transferring them to defense expenses.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report