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'Stop the boycotts,' Netanyahu tells coalition partners amid government crisis over proposed budget

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the official Jerusalem Day ceremony, May 18, 2023 (Photo: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Tensions within the Netanyahu-led government are growing after the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party leader Yitzhak Goldknopf recently threatened to block the passage of the state budget unless additional NIS 600 million ($164 million) is allocated to the ultra-Orthodox sector, which have two parties within the Netanyahu government.

If the state budget is not passed by May 29, the Knesset automatically dissolves and Israel will be forced into a new round of elections. 

Goldknopf, who currently serves as Israel's minister of Housing and Construction, heads the Agudat Yisrael faction within UTJ, which holds three out of the Netanyahu government’s 64 Knesset seats. While the government technically only needs 61 seats to remain in power, the ultra-religious Haredi minister is urging the other Haredi faction to join his budget demand threat. 

In a released statement on Thursday, the Agudat Yisrael faction noted it that it "decided to uphold the agreement signed with the United Torah Judaism list, including the commitment to the budgets for the children of Torah scholars in the yeshiva and avrechi schools.” 

“We didn’t follow [Netanyahu] to elections just so that he would violate agreements with us,” Agudat Yisrael officials recently told Israel's Channel 12 news. 

Meanwhile, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has reportedly threatened to resign from his post if the prime minister green lights the additional funds for the ultra-Orthodox sector. Smotrich, who belongs to the national religious faction, has warned that additional funds would lead to an increase in the country’s budget deficit. 

The Israeli government recently earmarked around $1.4 billion (approximately 1%) of the upcoming 2023-2024 budget to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sector. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community currently makes up 13% of the total population, a number which is expected to reach 16% by 2030 due to the extremely high fertility rate within their community

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged unity among his coalition partners during his Jerusalem Day speech on Friday. 

“We’re not going to have better government, a good, nationalist government that is concerned with the future of the people of Israel. The time has come to stop with the threats, stop the boycotts, get off your high horse,” stated Netanyahu.

“To work together and pass the budget for the good of the people and the settlements. For the good of the people of Israel and the Torah of Israel,” urged the premier. 

The prime minister also blasted TV anchor Galit Gutman’s recent inflammatory remarks, when she described Haredi Jews in Israel as financial bloodsuckers. 

“I condemn Galit Gutman’s ugly and inciting statement against the ultra-Orthodox public in Israel, which is reminiscent of slanderous statements directed against our people in the past,” said Netanyahu. 

“There’s no place for this – all of Israel are brothers!” vowed the prime minister who has himself been criticized for sowing political divisions in Israeli society. 

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir responded by condemning Netanyahu for failing to fulfill right-wing demands, including dismantling Khan al-Ahmar, an illegal Bedouin village in the disputed territory internationally known as the West Bank. 

“The judicial reform is not the high horse, and neither is evicting Khan al-Ahmar, said Ben Gvir. 

The minister stressed that the government needed to live up to its right-wing election promises, including defending the Israeli capital Jerusalem. 

“This government needs to be a full right-wing government. A government that protects Jerusalem.”

Addressing his Cabinet on Sunday, Netanyahu stressed that the budget would eventually be passed despite tensions within the coalition government. The premier also argued that Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) children should not receive less than their secular peers. 

“A haredi and religious child should not receive less than a secular child. An haredi child is not half a child. No one should see the defamation on television and cartoons that are copy-pasted anti-Semitic propaganda. No incitement will prevent us from passing the budget," said Netanyahu. 

However, critics argue that Netanyahu himself is undermining Israel’s and the ultra-Orthodox community’s future by not demanding that ultra-Orthodox children be taught core topics, including math, English and science. 

Israel's former Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, a vocal Netanyahu critic, criticized the premier for abandoning Haredi children. 

“What Netanyahu did, and for that he deserves to suffer in hell every day, is he took those people and said: ‘I will give you the same funds without the need to study core studies. I want you to remain in poverty, without education, and you will suffer,'” said Liberman. 

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

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