(photo credit: REUTERS)
The 2017-2018 state budget passed at 1 a.m. Thursday, and now Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can rest relatively easy, as the two-year budget almost guarantees that he can remain in office until 2019, unless he makes a serious political blunder.
Under normal circumstances, the annual budget season is a dramatic time, because if it doesn’t pass by the end of the year, or by the end of March if the government asks for an extension, an election is automatically called.
A two-year budget gives the prime minister an extra year of without that threat hanging over his head while he tries to balance the wants and needs of all of his partners. A two-year budget gives a sitting prime minister a political edge and more stability than he would normally enjoy, because it takes the opportunity to rock the boat away from his coalition partners.
Therefore, the budget vote is usually the height of parliamentary theater, with the opposition doing whatever it can to be disruptive. The longest filibuster in the Knesset’s history, with then-Likud MK Michael Eitan speaking for 10 hours and seven minutes in 1993, took place during a budget vote. In 2013, thanks to the opposition, led at the time by MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union), the final budget vote took 18 consecutive hours – and their original filibuster plan was to go on for a full day. Last year, the opposition submitted 32,000 objections to the budget, though that plan was thwarted by a Knesset House Committee crackdown.
One would think that for a budget which will last a full two years and essentially keep their political rival in office, the opposition would have brought their A-game, but this year its performance was lackluster, with the voting lasting a mere eight hours and the speeches on a tight schedule so no one would have to stay at work past midnight.
It’s hard to understand why the opposition dropped the ball and didn’t put up much of a fight. They certainly know how to do so.
But from the get-go, as committee meetings started nearly two months ago, they didn’t put up much of an effort, focusing instead on the political scandal du jour, whether it was the future of the Israel Broadcast Authority or the settlement regulation bill or Netanyahu’s lawyer’s involvement in the sale of German submarines, instead of the longer-term target. By the time the Zionist Union woke up, hired a graphic artist to create some images for an online campaign against the budget and filmed economist and MK Manuel Trajtenberg speaking out against it, they were too late, and it just didn’t catch on.
When the final vote came along, opposition coordinator Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union) and coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) agreed to limit objections to 220.
The opposition’s one advantage in the agreement was that they could make a minister respond to 30 of those objections.
At one point, the opposition acted under the pretenses of fighting the budget, but actually made it easier for the bill to pass. MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) led a walk-out in response to Netanyahu being absent for part of the vote to film a Facebook Live video, and, as was revealed not much later, to speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin. While Livni seemed very oppositional when she filmed an angry video and posted it online, the fact that she wasn’t in the room voting for the opposition’s objections while doing so only improved the coalition’s odds.
It’s funny, then, to think that earlier in the day, opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said in his speech summarizing the budget debate that Netanyahu needs to go home, and that the rest of the Likud should follow, when his path to staying in the prime minister’s office remained smooth and clear in the following hours.
A different line from Herzog’s speech was more fitting for how things turned out: “This budget is boring.”