Defense budget cut by NIS 2.7 billion

Israel Beiteinu storms out of meeting; Shas protests welfare cuts.

Steinitz, Netanyahu, Fischer and Peres 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Steinitz, Netanyahu, Fischer and Peres 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The government voted in favor of Israel's budget for the next two years on Friday, resulting in a decrease of NIS 2.7 billion, close to the originally planned cut of NIS 3 billion.
A marathon budgetary meeting of over 12 hours was held on Thursday, and the final decisions were made on Friday morning in a meeting between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the Finance Ministry's budget director Udi Nissan, various finance ministers and the IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen Gabi Ashkenazi. At the following government meeting, the budget was approved, with 20 voting in favor, 5 Israel Beiteinu ministers voting against, 4 Shas ministers abstaining and 1 absent, after Minister of Welfare Isaac Herzog left the meeting early.
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At the beginning of the meeting in which the government voted on the budget, Netanyahu said that "in the last decade, the Israeli economy was faced with two crises: a local one and an international one. We came out of both because we had an economic policy with vision. The budget we compiled today is a responsible and balanced budget, that grants stability to the Israeli economy for the next two years."
"The public in every country pays for going over the budget and unchecked spending," Netanyahu explained. "It may not be clear when a government goes over the budget, but we see what happened in some European countries. We can't let such irresponsibility happen in Israel."
The prime minister added: "Naturally, we can't meet every need, even though many are legitimate and important, but a leader's job is to weigh priorities and make decisions."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in response to the announced results that this was one of the most difficult budgetary decisions made and it will be difficult to carry out, but is required due to the economic and social reality in Israel.
In the presence of Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Barak said that the new budget will allow funds to be used to enrich education without affecting health and welfare.
Israel Beiteinu walks out of budget meeting
Ministers from Israel Beiteinu reportedly stormed out of Friday's budget meeting, threatening to vote against the budget, due to the cut in defense spending. According to reports, Foreign Minister and head of Israel Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman, has previously threatened that his party would vote against Netanyahu-led decisions.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch expressed disappointment that his office's budget was cut by NIS 700 million in an interview with Israel Radio.
"If the government doesn't fund the office, Israeli society will be harmed," Aharonovitch said. "There is a need to strengthen the police and the prison service. The ministry can't be run [without additional funding.]"
Aharonovitch also protested his party's treatment in the government meeting. "Israel Beiteinu is the senior partner [in the coalition], but we're treated otherwise. I say to the government and to the prime minister: we'll meet in the Knesset. We're voting against the budget - it will not pass!"
Minister of Absorption Sofa Landver, also of Israel Beiteinu, released a statement slamming the government.
"This is the first time since the establishment of the State of Israel that aliyah is not on the government's agenda," Landver said. "The suggested budget is directly harming the absorption and encouragement of aliyah. I call upon Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to get involved, because he said that absorption of olim is a priority for our government."
Shas, Labor protest cut in welfare funds
Shas ministers announced Friday morning that they will abstain from budget voting following the freeze of welfare funds. Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced that he will fight in the Knesset for the increase in welfare funds. 
Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog from the Labor party also criticized the freeze on welfare funds Thursday, and left Friday's government meeting in anger, before voting began.
The allocation of NIS 1.4 billion to the Ministry of Transportation and NIS 55 million to the Ministry of Culture in the next three years was also approved Friday morning in negotiations between the Ministry of theTreasury and various government offices.