After a long and acrimonious debate in the cabinet, ministers approved on Sunday a steep 1.35 percent budget cut across the board to all ministries to pay for a multi-billion-shekel pay increase for those serving in non-military security services.
The decision paves the way for a series of pay increases beginning in January 2019 that will eventually see the salaries of tens of thousands of employees of the Israel Police, Prisons Service, Shin Bet and Mossad made equal to their parallel ranks in the IDF.
It also pays out some NIS 7 billion ($1.9 billion) in “back pay” compensation for the government’s failure to equalize the salaries in the various security services since an earlier government decision first required it in 2006. The extra compensation payments will be paid out over 17 years.
The decision split the cabinet, with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon celebrating the decision, while others, including Welfare Minister Haim Katz and Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, warning that the budget cuts meant to pay for the salary hikes will dramatically hurt the poorest Israelis.
“This corrects a historical wrong,” enthused Erdan, the main proponent of the salary hike. “It comes after two months of intensive negotiations and 13 years of unpaid back wages.”
“This is good news for police officers and pensioners of the police, Prisons Service, Shin Bet and Mossad, who serve with dedication for the nation’s security,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after the vote.
The Forum of Police and Prisons Service Officers and Pensioners, an umbrella body representing the officers’ interests in the negotiations with the government, said the vote was “a historic and important decision that brings justice to some 60,000 police and Prisons Service officers and pensioners and their families.”
But the decision saw vociferous opposition in the cabinet, leading Netanyahu to consider delaying the decision because he believed he may not have enough votes to pass the cut. Netanyahu and Kahlon stepped out of the cabinet meeting twice to confer before deciding to proceed with the vote.
Once it was clear the vote would be held, only three ministers out of 22 voted against: Welfare Minister Katz, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Culture Minister Miri Regev.
Katz warned that the cut would be felt in programs for at-risk women, and could lead “many women to slide into prostitution because we won’t have the funds to care for them.”
He protested that the government also planned to use the savings from the budget cut to fund the state’s share in the 2019 Eurovision song contest.
The “worst cuts in recent times,” as Deputy Health Minister Litzman called them, would “mortally wound the health of Israel’s citizens,” he said after the vote. “I informed the prime minister and other ministers that the expected cut could destroy the Israeli health system.”
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel also slammed the cuts, calling them “shameful.”
“This massive cut in the Agriculture Ministry’s budget will badly hurt the agriculture industry,” he said.
Opposition politicians also blasted the move.
Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay slammed the across-the-board nature of the cuts. “A government that cuts equally in all areas, without prioritizing, is a government that could be replaced with a Casio calculator,” he protested.
MK Shelly Yachimovich, a former head of Labor and now chair of the Knesset State Control Committee, called the cuts “a disaster that means a mortal blow for education, welfare, public security and health. This is the dismantling of the welfare state for the sake of spin and political benefits. An across-the-board cut is the most virulent contributor to inequality there is, because those who have aren’t hurt, but the poor and middle class will pay from their pockets for what is being taken away with this cut.”
The framework approved by the cabinet would up the salaries of serving members of the security services in two strokes, the first in January 2019, and the second in January 2020. The retirement benefits of retirees will be raised to the level of IDF pensioners in January 2019.