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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
MK Ya'acov Litzman (Agudat Yisrael), Chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, came under fire Tuesday for overseeing the transfer of NIS 44 million for yeshiva students.
NIS 30m. of the sum was approved by the Finance Committee over a month ago.
Tzahi Hanegbi, member of the Kedima Party, said Litzman's actions were illegal and that the High Court of Justice should be petitioned on the matter.
Hanegbi, who was interviewed on Israel Radio, blamed Litzman for pushing his own political agenda as the head of the Knesset Finance Committee. He added that such activity constituted a violation of the Knesset loyalty oath.
MK Ronnie Brizon said he heard about the transfer from the haredi press.
"Litzman bragged to the haredi papers that he managed to obtain Chanukah gelt for the yeshivot," explained Brizon.
"Cooperation between the haredim and the Finance Ministry has gone beyond shame," said Brizon. "All the haredim have to do is demand something and the government bows to their demands, disbursing public funds like Chanukah latkas."
Brizon said he that he doubted Litzman had done something illegal.
"There are so many legal ways to transfer the funds that he would not risk illegal methods. It would be foolish."
Litzman defended the transfer.
"We were attacked a month ago when the Finance Committee first approved the money for yeshivot. Now we are being attacked all over again.
"Unlike Shinui who managed to get NIS 700m. out of the government, we will use the money to save families from starvation, not to fund chess lessons and other secular culture."
Litzman said that yeshivot budgets were cut from NIS 1.032b. when he last served as Finance Committee Chairman four years ago to a level of NIS 371m.
"This cut coincided with a sever reduction in child allowances which has devastated thousands of families headed by yeshiva students," said Litzman.
As part of the coalition agreement signed between United Torah Judaism, a united list consisting of Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael, and the government in January, the haredi parties received NIS 140m. for yeshivot and another NIS 150m. for elementary schools and girls' seminaries.
The additional NIS 44m. transferred at the end of the year is not included in the coalition agreement.
All the money will be used to provide a one-time grant of NIS 330 for unmarried yeshiva students and NIS 600 for every married student.
Married yeshiva students receive a NIS 700 monthly stipend from the Education Ministry and unmarried students receive NIS 400.
"I'm happy that the Finance Ministry met me halfway and understood the distress of the Haredi public," said Litzman.
"I hope that this sum will make things a little easier for families. The money will be distributed according to the Education Ministry's criteria."
In a related matter, Litzman said that unity negotiations between his party and Degel Hatorah would resume next week. Divergent rabbinic loyalties caused a split between the two parties. Litzman declared his fidelity to Rabbi Ya'acov Alter, the Gerer Rebbe, while Degel MKs insisted on the primacy of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the most respected halachic authority among Lithuanian haredi Jews.
The two parties combined expect to receive a total of six Knesset seats. However, while Degel insists on equality with three seats going to each party, Agudah demands no changes in the previous agreement, which would give Agudah four seats and Degel just two.
It is very likely that in the end Degel will settle for two seats and a rotation agreement on a third seat.
It is still unclear which Agudah MK will be willing to share his stint with a Degel MK. The most logical choice would be MK Meir Porush. According to an old agreement between Degel and Agudah, Porush will run in the next Jerusalem mayoral race in three years instead of Degel's Uri Lupoliansky.
If Porush were to receive Degel support for the mayoral race, it would be timed to coincide with a Degel MK taking Porush's place in the Knesset.
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