Israel's 2021 budget was passed in the Knesset on Thursday morning in the third reading by a vote of 61-59.
Voting in this year’s budget, which had to pass by November 14 to prevent elections from being initiated, was set to continue throughout Thursday night. The economic arrangements bill, which contained key reforms, was the first bill to pass, followed by the 2021 state budget.
The Knesset began marathon voting on Wednesday night, following a stormy session that featured the nastiest verbal fight yet between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his predecessor, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
Bennett, Netanyahu, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Knesset Finance Committee chairman Alex Kushnir gave speeches at the plenum before voting began.
Bennett declared that passage of the budget was “the most important moment since the government was formed.” He predicted that after the budget becomes law, “the Likud will have to reconsider its direction,” a reference to replacing Netanyahu, who met with individual coalition members in an effort to persuade them to vote against the budget and bring the government down. He apparently did not succeed.
In a speech to his Yisrael Beytenu faction at the Knesset on Monday, Liberman, who voted for the budget, lashed out at Netanyahu for preventing passage of the budget while initiating four elections in two years. “By Friday, Israel will go back to being a normal country with a budget after the anomaly of three and a half years without a budget due to the personal interests of one person,” he said.
Liberman said the coalition was united around four issues: the need for stability, lowering the cost of living, fighting crime in the Arab sector and fighting traffic jams. “As long as the coalition focuses on these issues, [it] can last its entire term,” he said.
“Other issues, like the Palestinians and whether an American consulate will open up for them in Jerusalem, must wait.”
Liberman repeatedly called the budget “the most socioeconomic budget ever.” He rejected charges that key elements singled out and purposely harmed the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sector. No budget in Israeli history has had as large a scope, the finance minister had said earlier.
“We want to help the haredim and not harm them,” he said. “That means strengthening moderates and encouraging them to join the workforce. This is the true Jewish tradition – and what Shas and United Torah Judaism preach is idol worship. The Talmud doesn’t say it’s forbidden to work or to serve in the IDF.”
The Knesset will deliberate the 2022 budget when the plenum resumes Thursday morning and is set to pass the upcoming year's budget into law for the first time since March 15, 2018.
Gil Hoffman and Zev Stub contributed to this report.