Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Sunday lambasted ultra-Orthodox politicians for failing to denounce the hanging and near-burning of two effigies of IDF soldiers in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem on Friday.
“The shock was twofold, from both the fact that this weekend we saw an effigy of a soldier hanging from the roof in Mea Shearim and that no Knesset member or representative from the ultra-Orthodox faction condemned the action,” Liberman said.
On Friday, police officers removed the life-sized doll dressed up as a soldier, finding that it had been “saturated with flammable liquid, apparently with the intent of setting it on fire,” police said. A second effigy was later found and removed as well.
Liberman made his comments at the start of a Knesset committee hearing on the defense budget and amid an ongoing dispute within the governing coalition over the enlistment of men from the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, community.
Ultra-Orthodox Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman has been threatening to boycott voting on the state budget vote if a law on exempting the ultra-Orthodox from mandatory military service was not passed first, but coalition partner Avigdor Liberman, who serves as defense minister, has vowed his Yisrael Beytenu party will not allow such a measure to pass. The dispute has threatened to topple Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
“We can argue about the draft law, we can argue about the budget. But the idea that in the State of Israel, in the capital of Israel, Jerusalem, we can see an effigy of a soldier hanging from rooftops over and over again, and there’s no denunciation by any political figures or by any lower level Haredi leader, that is of the utmost seriousness,” the defense minister said.
שוטרים הסירו ממבנה בשכונת מאה שערים בירושלים בובה בדמות חייל שנתלתה במקום. מבדיקה ראשונית עולה כי הייתה ספוגה בחומר דליק, ככל הנראה במטרה להציתה בהמשך. נפתחה חקירה pic.twitter.com/inbCI9a21i
— משטרת ישראל (@IL_police) March 2, 2018
In addition to Liberman, the Knesset committee meeting over the defense budget was attended by IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and Defense Ministry Director Udi Adam. Other than Liberman’s opening remarks, the remainder of the discussion was held behind closed doors.
For the past several months, the Defense Ministry has been feuding with the Finance Ministry over its budget.
The five-year defense budget was negotiated and signed by former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon in 2015, after brutal negotiations. In both 2016 and 2017, the annual defense budget was approximately NIS 70 billion ($19.9 billion), with nearly a quarter of it coming from American military aid.
In November, Liberman called for the Finance Ministry to allocate an additional NIS 4.8 billion toward the defense budget in light of Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and other worrying security-related developments in the Middle East.
On Sunday, however, the defense minister seemed to change tactics and said he was not looking for a budget increase, but for the Finance Ministry to transfer the funds that they had initially agreed to, but later withheld.
According to Liberman, the defense budget was cut by NIS 8.3 billion by the Finance Ministry, which makes it impossible for the army to carry out its multi-year Gideon Plan meant to streamline and improve the military.
We’re not asking for a supplement. We’re asking for returning the budget to the original amount, as it appears in the Gideon Plan
Liberman said the cuts to the budget were made without regard for the additional directives given to the Defense Ministry by the security cabinet, notably the construction of a new NIS 3 billion above- and below-ground barrier around the Gaza Strip.
“We’re not asking for a supplement. We’re asking for returning the budget to the original amount, as it appears in the Gideon Plan. This isn’t an issue of analysis, it’s simple arithmetic,” he said.
The Finance Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Liberman’s claim of budget-slashing.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.