'Haredim obliged to work for their, economy's benefit'

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz defends kollel students' income support bill, slams opposition criticism as "irresponsible."

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz at a meeting of th (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz at a meeting of th
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz on Monday expressed his surprise over the opposition of Knesset members to the inclusion of an income support measure intended largely for haredi kollel students in the new bi-annual budget.
"I do not understand the firestorm over the issue of income supports for kollel students, " Steinitz said during a meeting in the Knesset. "The haredim are obliged to join the labor force for their own benefit and the benefit of the economy, but the protest accompanying the insertion of this clause into the current budget as was done in the last 30 years is a storm in a teacup."
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Steinitz added that he viewed the failure to draft haredim into the IDF as a "historic mistake," and that the opposition's criticism of the budget bill wasn't serious and was irresponsible.
The Knesset approved the first reading of the 2011-2012 state budget late on Monday night with 62 MKs voting for the measure and 34 opposing it, despite an ongoing dispute inside the coalition over stipends for haredi kollel students.
Labor leadership candidate Avishay Braverman was joined by Labor MKs Amir Peretz and Eitan Cabel in boycotted the vote to protest the inclusion of an allocation of nearly NIS 111 million for the stipends in the draft budget. He accused Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of misleading the public by forming a committee on Sunday to discuss whether to allocate the stipends and then including them in the budget the following day.
“The prime minister and the haredi factions are engaged in parliamentary thievery by enabling a vote on the stipends without proper deliberations,” Braverman said. “On such a sensitive issue, I expected the prime minister to behave more consistently. There is no sense in voting for the budget tonight before the matter is discussed.
“The rules of proper management require different behavior.”
Kadima went further, accusing Netanyahu of “lying disgracefully” and “breaking a new record for cynicism, chutzpa, and disrespect toward the Israeli public.”
The Prime Minister’s Office and the Finance Ministry issued clarifications, saying the stipends were placed in the budget for the first vote but would not be included in the final readings of the budget bill if they were not legislated by then.
“The government is acting to legislate the stipends as the High Court of Justice requested,” Netanyahu’s spokesman Nir Hefetz said. “The legislation will be passed by the time the budget is brought to a final vote. If the issue is not legislated by then, the allocation will be set aside in the Treasury’s reserves.”
United Torah Judaism MKs met with Netanyahu’s advisers at the Knesset and asked for immediate solutions, not only for the stipend issue but also for the housing shortage for young haredi couples. They also requested that the core curriculum not be required in the Ashkenazi haredi school system.
A spokeswoman for UTJ said the faction voted in favor despite the demands.