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Former IDF chief Gantz threatens to quit unity gov’t over amended war budget

Gantz's National Unity party demands all coalition funds be averted to war effort

Backdropped by the city of Kiryat Shmona,hHead of the National Unity party Benny Gantz speaks to press as he tours Northern Galillee. November 14, 2023. Photo by Ayal Margolin/Flash90

The cabinet vote over an amended state budget for 2023, scheduled for Monday, has exposed a rift between the National Unity party and the original coalition it joined since the outbreak of the war.

The head of National Unity, Benny Gantz, threatened to vote against the state budget and quit the unity government if his demands were not met.

The amended war budget, presented by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, includes broad cuts to funds earmarked for discretionary spending by coalition members, with the funds being transferred to the war effort.

The main bone of contention is how much of the coalition funds should be diverted to Israel's war against Hamas.

Gantz complains too much money is going to religious schools and projects in the settlements in Judea and Samaria, while Smotrich argues that many of these projects are still serving the war effort both directly and indirectly.

In a letter to Netanyahu, Gantz wrote: “At this time, all of Israeli society must share the load. The public knows this, and the government must act accordingly.”

“Any available funds must go to war needs and to them alone. If the session is held and the budget stands, National Unity will vote against the proposed budget and will consider its next steps.”

The Prime Minister’s Office released a statement saying the vote would still be held on Monday.

“We have already cut more than 70% of the coalition funds, NIS 1.6 billion ($4.28 million), and what is left is intended for civilian needs such as teachers’ salaries and not for any political use.”

“An increase of 500 million shekels in the Yeshiva budget, an allocation of over 400 million shekels to the ministry for national missions whose purpose is unclear, and raising the salary of teachers… this is a finger in the eye [of the public],” a source close to Gantz told Kan News.

Settlements and National Missions Minister Orit Strock rejected allegations that the purpose of her ministry’s funds wasn’t clear.

“With us, everything is clear and detailed: The settlement division, National Service, pre-army service preparatory schools, mission cores [a social task force] – these are for all sectors, plus additions to the war effort (emergency teams, security elements, community resilience). Jewish identity and culture, which are just as important as general culture. Culture is part of our resilience also and especially during a war. And yes, also keeping Area C from being taken over by the Palestinian Authority. Maybe you like this less, but this is also part of the national effort to keep the enemy away from our settlements.”

Smotrich also defended himself against Gantz’s allegations in a long and detailed post on Facebook, rejecting the funds being labeled “coalition money.”

“Someone explain to me why the hundreds of millions that we transferred for emergency needs and security components to the local authorities in the Gaza border communities and the northern border are not considered coalition money and when we seek to do the exact same thing in Judea and Samaria it is considered invalid coalition money,” Smotrich wrote.

“And there are also minor salary increases for ultra-Orthodox teachers who earn the least of any other teacher in Israel… I hope that in the hours remaining until the government debate, our partners in the emergency government in the National Unity party will come to their senses… and vote in favor of this important additional budget for the victory of the State of Israel.”

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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