The Knesset approved the 2011-2012 biennial budget and the Economic Arrangements
Law Wednesday during a marathon voting session that lasted nearly 12 hours,
gaining Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu two years of relative political quiet
without having to turn to the Knesset for major funding
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After the government worked into the night Tuesday to
reconcile tensions with haredi parties Shas and UTJ, Kadima still managed to
stoke the flames of controversy during a number of the Wednesday votes,
including the vote on funding for Israel’s Fire and Rescue Services, which
remained unchanged despite the Carmel fire.
The budget sailed through its
second and third readings in the Knesset, passing by a final vote of 63-33 with
The 2011 budget for government ministries will be
approximately NIS 247 billion, and rise to NIS 259b. in 2012. Additional funds
held by the government for special situations will inflate the 2011 budget to a
total of almost NIS 367b. and NIS 385b. in the following year.
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcomed the budget’s passage.
“This is a
good and responsible budget – both economic and social – that will continue to
lead Israel’s economy in the right direction,” he said.
As the voting
began on the budget Wednesday morning, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz told MKs
that the budget was “good for Israel’s citizens.
“We are submitting a
budget that is good for the state of Israel,” he continued. “It is a budget for
growth, for education, for the periphery, for closing social gaps and helping
the weak sectors of society, for integrating haredim and Arabs in the economy
and the work force.”
The opposition, however, was less
“The prime minister’s happiness that he passed the budget
is a sort of happiness over survival,” complained opposition chairwoman Tzipi
“It seems to the prime minister that if he managed to buy votes,
he can continue to sit in his chair and do nothing for the good of the citizen.
This is a budget that sees the last politician who entered Netanyahu’s office,
but those who didn’t make it into the office were the local government
officials, the state attorneys and the firefighters,” she went on.
budget that ignores the citizen will increase social gaps, and its results will
be those of a country that does not determine a correct order of priorities for
the good of the citizen – results that will be seen in education, welfare and
the status of the middleclass, which will collapse toward poverty,” she
“This was the most cynical budget ever to have been passed in the
country’s history,” complained MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima).
“It has no
funding to deal with emergency situations, neither for fire and rescue nor for
earthquakes, there is no great revelation, but mostly a budget whose job is to
maintain the government. The prime minister bought MKs, lobbied and enticed, all
with the public’s funds.”
During voting on clauses of the Interior
Ministry’s budget, Kadima slammed the government for leaving the sum dedicated
to the fire and rescue services unchanged, despite revelations following the
Carmel fire that the fire services were critically underfunded.
Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) accused Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who left the room
shortly before the vote was held, of “running away,” and accused the government
of being “a bunch of dishrags.”
“You bought off the voting today, you
bought all of the kollel yeshivas in the country, and nothing was left for the
firefighters,” Plesner yelled out on the plenum floor.
Kadima forced the
vote on the fire services to be held as a roll-call vote, in which each MK was
forced to verbally affirm his or her support of or opposition to the unimproved
In a rare move in the midst of the voting, the Prime Minister’s
Office released a statement arguing that “claims of alleged neglect of the Fire
and Rescue Services are baseless.”
“Within nine days, a budget of
hundreds of millions of shekels will be brought to the government for a vote in
order to reinforce and re-equip the fire services and to lease firefighting
airplanes, as the prime minister promised,” the statement
Earlier, Plesner unsuccessfully attempted to derail the voting
on the budget by arguing that the government had made secret deals with Shas and
opposition faction National Union to secure their support, in violation of a law
requiring disclosure of such agreements.
Coalition Chairman Ze’ev Elkin
(Likud) denied any connection between the progovernment votes by National Union
MKs Ya’acov Katz and Uri Ariel and the NIS 230 million allocated to hesder
yeshivas two weeks ago.
He said that funding was in the budget every
year, and that the timing of its allocation was a result of the Finance
Committee’s refusal to allocate money to the defense budget until the matter of
the hesder yeshivas was taken care of.
Katz also defended his vote in
favor of the coalition during an interview with Israel Radio, in which he said
that “this is a nationalist government even though it has sinned. We will never
let a nationalist government fall. Even if Bibi wants it to fall, we won’t let
Late Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, coalition
officials worked to settle a conflict with haredi parties after Israel
Beiteinu’s military conversion bill passed the Knesset House Committee despite
their loud objections.
As a result of the talks, both haredi parties
presented victories in ensuring loans for home-buyers.
rising prices of real estate in Israel are one of the issues that most concern
the haredi community, whose large families have relatively low
On Tuesday night, Shas triumphantly announced that the Prime
Minister’s Office told party chairman Yishai that the coalition would support a
bill led by Shas MK Yitzhak Vaknin. Under Vaknin’s bill, the state would give
monthly grants of NIS 800 or NIS 475 to people paying off mortgages in “national
The Shas announcement stressed that Vaknin’s bill, which
also bears the names of 28 MKs from nearly all the coalition and opposition
parties, is not sectorial and will serve all members of the public wishing to
purchase a home.
On Wednesday, United Torah Judaism faction head Menahem
Eliezer Moses said in a statement that Netanyahu had promised to promote the UTJ
housing bill, which would insure a loan of up to NIS 1 million for those
purchasing their first home anywhere in the country.
The bill will be
combined with Vaknin’s, Moses’s statement added.