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Netanyahu responds to criticism over proposed budget

Premier attacks opposition heads, saying they also gave money to coalition partners

Israeli Prime Minister speaking at a special Cabinet meeting at the Western Wall Tunnels in Jerusalem, May 21, 2023 (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

In a special Sunday Cabinet meeting held at the Western Wall Tunnels in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on his coalition partners to unite and pass the coalition budget.

“For the sake of the unity of Jerusalem, we must continue to maintain this government,” Netanyahu said at the meeting.

Acknowledging the importance of 2023-24 budget approval for Netanyahu and his coalition to remain in office, the prime minister stated, “In order to continue to maintain our national government, we must pass the budget.”

Netanyahu also affirmed that he is the one to make it happen.

“I have experience in this, and I can say that arguments always arise at the last minute – I believe we will overcome them.”

Netanyahu encouraged his coalition partners, saying they had “changed the equation vis-à-vis [Palestinian] Islamic Jihad.”

Addressing the apparent crisis with ultra-Orthodox factions, such as the United Torah Judaism party, Netanyahu said the coalition believes “an ultra-Orthodox child should not receive less than a secular child, or a religious child.”

A little over a week ago, Netanyahu announced his government had earmarked $1.37 billion (or 1%) of the entire state budget to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sector, which is currently demanding an additional NIS 600 million ($165 million) be added to the 2023-2024 budget allocation.

In Israel, the ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox Jewish sectors are distinguished by several factors, including varying degrees of beliefs regarding the need for students to receive a secular education. Many Orthodox Jews study math, science and English in their core school curriculum and generally participate in the job market, with some even enrolling in military service with the Israel Defense Forces.

Netanyahu attacked his opponents' “false propaganda,” saying his government had “succeeded in integrating the ultra-Orthodox into the labor market more than any other government.”

Opposition leader Benny Gantz, who heads the National Unity party, responded to Netanyahu’s statement.

“Netanyahu is right; an ultra-Orthodox child should not receive less than a secular child. He deserves, in addition to Torah studies, to study core studies, for his own sake, for his future, and for the future of all of us,” Gantz said.

As part of the Cabinet meeting earlier on Sunday, the government approved a five-year plan to reduce disparities between students in the western [Jewish] and eastern [Arab] parts of the Jerusalem.

The plan is a continuation of a previous five-year plan, with a budget of about NIS 2.1 billion ($575 million), reportedly to be jointly funded by the government and the Jerusalem municipality.

The coalition has until May 29 to pass the annual budget or else the Knesset will dissolve and the nation  will return to another round of elections.

Several coalition partners have said they will vote against the budget if so-called coalition funds – funds promised during coalition agreement negotiations during the November election campaign – are not approved.

The parties threatening to vote against the budget are Religious Zionism, United Torah Judaism and Jewish Power.

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

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