Steinitz: No deal was made over yeshiva stipends

Finance Minister denies claims by Eli Yishai that he made a backroom agreement; Yishai: There were talks, but clause was removed after debate.

311_steinitz is feeling cross (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
311_steinitz is feeling cross
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz denied emphatically Monday that there had been any secret deal hammered out between the Treasury and the haredi parties to pass legislation to provide subsidies for yeshiva students.
Speaking before the Knesset’s Finance Committee, Steinitz was met by a hail of criticism from Kadima MKs, but later in the day got a leg up from Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who backtracked on earlier statements that such an agreement existed.
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Steinitz denied assertions Yishai had made in an Army Radio interview earlier in the day that there was an agreement with the haredi parties, but said that he would “support any arrangement that is in line with parameters set by the Supreme Court.”
Throughout Steinitz’s briefing to the committee, Kadima MKs continued to press him on the issue of the alleged deal.
“Who are we supposed to believe?” asked Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner. “Should we believe what you said now in the committee, denying the existence of an agreement between Shas and the Treasury on the bill, or should we believe what Yishai said this morning on the radio, when he confirmed the existence of the agreement? Are your statements in the committee binding, or is what is binding what was posted on [haredi news website] Hadrei Haredim?” Plesner contended that “there is practically no serious person in the country who believes that there is going to be a real debate in the committee established by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu [to probe the stipend issue]. Now it is clear that everything was determined in advance. I demand that you immediately reveal all of the other political agreements that you made in order to enable the passage of this anti-social-welfare budget.”
Hours after Steinitz’s emphatic denial, Yishai backtracked, telling Channel 2 that “there really were talks with the Treasury, but I’m sorry to let the wind out of your sails: There was no agreement in the end, to my regret.”
Yishai explained that “I thought the clause would make it in, but ultimately it did not.
In hearings on the budget, negotiations are held until late at night. Clauses go in and go out, even after we reached an agreement with the Treasury – which ultimately decided to remove the clause. If I had known that, I would have opposed its removal.”
Meanwhile, on Monday afternoon, Kadima MK Yoel Hasson called on Yishai to support his bill, which would provide living stipends for students registered in institutions of higher learning.
“I wish to congratulate you for your statement that you support living stipends for students,” Hasson wrote to Yishai.
In light of such statements, he continued, “and in light of the need to ensure the rights and welfare of students, like those of yeshiva students, I request your support and that of Shas for my bill, which will be brought up for debate in the Knesset in the coming days.”

Hasson’s bill, which he submitted two weeks ago in the shadow of the debate over stipends for yeshiva students, would provide similar funding for students who are enrolled full-time at institutions of higher learning and who meet other criteria similar to those included in the haredi-sponsored bill. To be eligible, the student would have to have at least one child and not own a vehicle or property, and neither the student nor their spouse could have registered any income in that tax year.
According to Hasson’s proposal, the education minister would also be empowered to determine other social and economic criteria for the stipend.