Coalition said working to budget another NIS 100 million for Haredi yeshiva students

Report says ministers considering across-the-board spending cut to raise stipends for ultra-Orthodox men who choose religious study over work and mandatory military service

Illustrative: Students study at a yeshiva in Jerusalem, September 2, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Students study at a yeshiva in Jerusalem, September 2, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The government is reportedly working to allocate another NIS 100 million ($27.5 million) to fund stipends for full-time yeshiva students, amid gripes from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox allies that the enhanced benefits their community was guaranteed by the recent state budget weren’t sufficient.

In a report Sunday, the Kan public broadcaster said the United Torah Judaism and Shas parties claimed the 2023-2024 budget passed in May did not raise the payments to the level they seek and they were therefore now demanding more.

The sum would be on top of discretionary funds included in the budget to increase stipends for Haredi men who choose to engage in full-time study of religious texts instead of working and serving in the military.

To pay for this stipend increase, however, the government needs to take money from other sources in the budget. The unsourced report said ministers were considering an across-the-board cut at all government ministries, and also examining alternatives due to expected public blowback.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has expressed support for the move, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

There was no comment from coalition members on the report, which came several weeks after UTJ threatened to stop voting with the coalition until the Haredi party received the funds it was demanding.

Religious Zionism head Bezalel Smotrich (standing) with United Torah Judaism leader Yitzchak Goldknopf at the Knesset on November 21, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“You used Israeli citizens’ money… to solve a political problem,” opposition leader Yair Lapid said to Kan radio. “When these funds are transferred they are being taken from someone else.”

Other members of Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, which has long pushed to curb the blanket exemptions to military service for ultra-Orthodox Israelis and other benefits they enjoy, similarly denounced the report, as did Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman.

“The extortion by the Haredi parties doesn’t stop,” tweeted Liberman, a right-wing secularist.

“And who do you think will pay for this? The ‘anarchists’ who serve in the army, do reserve [service] work and pay taxes,” he added, referring to protesters against the judicial overhaul who have been criticized by the government.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, right, and Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman at a joint press conference in the Knesset dealing with Israel’s foreign policy, February 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The current state budget includes NIS 13.7 billion in discretionary spending, NIS 3.7 billion of which was allocated for increasing the budget for stipends for full-time yeshiva students.

Another NIS 1.2 billion is budgeted for private, non-supervised Haredi educational institutions, many of which do not teach core subjects such as math and English, while additional funds will go to the official Haredi education system, and for construction of buildings for religious purposes and supporting Haredi culture and identity.

The budget also expands stipends to yeshiva students to the tune of up to NIS 250 million ($68 million), using any surplus funds left over from ultra-Orthodox schools. That deal, which quelled rebellion among a subsection of ultra-Orthodox politicians, also included authorization to retroactively pay yeshiva students a grant from the beginning of 2023.

The budget has been denounced by the opposition as “reckless,” while treasury officials warned it could lead to lost gross domestic product in the coming years.

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