sraeli lawmakers attend a vote on a bill at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem February 6, 2017.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
The Knesset was expected to approve the 2019 state budget and its accompanying economic arrangements bill in a first reading after press time Tuesday night.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon took the uncommon step of presenting the 2019 budget nearly a year in advance, in order to stabilize the coalition, which won’t have to deal with another budget before an election is legally required – in November 2019.
Kahlon, however, presented the budget to the Knesset as a path toward a better Israel, which “strengthens us economically and morally.”
“This is an economic agenda to build a better society like our parents wanted, wherever they came from, a society that is as egalitarian as possible, with fair distribution,” Kahlon said. “I am doing all I can do toward that, and we see that it’s happening... The Israeli market is strong and the situation is good... but there’s more to do. We haven’t finished our work.”
The finance minister called himself “color blind” when it comes to distributing resources, and says he does not differentiate among population groups, a point that opposition MKs repeatedly disputed.
The 2019 budget totals NIS 397.3 billion in expenditures.
Among its proposals are shortening Passover and Hanukka school vacations for children up to third grade, cuts to the Foreign Ministry and removing absorption packages for more affluent immigrants.
Funding for the Defense Ministry amounts to NIS 63b. – an increase of 37% since 2014. It surpasses the education budget of NIS 60b., which saw a 38% increase, according to a summary of the budget released by the Finance Ministry.
The health budget will total NIS 38b. – seeing a 60% increase since 2014 – and welfare budget and funding for Holocaust survivors is estimated at NIS 13b., having gone up by 41% during that time.
Yet behind the funding increases and budget cuts stand winners and losers.
More affluent people making aliya may see their benefits cut, as new immigrants with total household assets worth more than NIS 500,000 will be ineligible for the absorption package. It is unclear how the asset limit will be enforced.
Yesh Atid MK Mickey Levy pointed out that the budget bill ups the deficit from 2.4% to 2.9% and accused Kahlon of counting on MKs not to actually read it.
“Why don’t you tell us that instead of all this blah blah blah?” he asked.
Joint List MK Abdel-Hakim Haj Yahya lamented that not enough money was designated specifically for Arab citizens, and one of the issues he focused on was encouraging employment for Arab women.
“Every Arab woman who works brings her family up from below the poverty line to the line or above it. The situation in which only a third of Arab women work can’t continue.
And I didn’t see anything on that,” in the budget, Yahya said.
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) was one of many MKs who focused on the expected police recommendations to indict Netanyahu and argued that the budget is irrelevant.
“Do you think we can pass a budget a year in advance, under a corrupt prime minister who has to go home? Let’s disperse this meeting. This budget is pointless, politically and morally,” she said.
Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli said: “I appreciate all of Kahlon’s social efforts, but the real dispute about the budget tonight isn’t about what is in or isn’t in it, rather that it is a means of preserving the coalition at any cost, while the earth is quaking...This is a pathetic, irrelevant attempt by the government.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein pointed out that this is a greener budget bill than ever before because it is no longer printed and distributed on paper.
“We no longer see the giant [budget bill] boxes with thousands of pages,” Edelstein said. “We now have it in a smaller, more economical format, on a flash drive, which is an Israeli invention... This is a move we began ahead of the last budget, to promote a green Knesset.”