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Health minister warns he won’t back budget unless healthcare funding is boosted

‘There could be a very big crisis here’: Meretz’s Nitzan Horowitz threatens to withdraw support from state budget, which will need full coalition support to pass

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Meretz party chair Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz leads a Meretz faction meeting at the Knesset on July 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Meretz party chair Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz leads a Meretz faction meeting at the Knesset on July 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz warned on Monday that his Meretz party could vote against the state budget unless it includes more funding for the healthcare system, accusing Finance Ministry officials of “trying to ignore the government’s guiding principles.”

“These days, while there are discussions about the state budget, the health system is on life support and needs an urgent transfusion, irrelevant of the coronavirus,” he told lawmakers at his party’s weekly faction meeting in the Knesset.

“It is functioning in emergency mode and it’s impossible to continue like this,” he said.

Horowitz’s comments reflect concerns that broader healthcare is being neglected amid the pandemic.

Last month, before the new government was sworn in, plans for an official event honoring the health system for its COVID-fighting efforts took an embarrassing turn, after seven hospitals announced they were boycotting the event because they felt the government had abandoned them financially since the pandemic.

A month earlier, doctors held a strike charging that they kept the nation going through the pandemic but were now being “tossed aside.” The Israel Medical Association called the 24-hour strike, along with several protests, over fears that doctors employed during the pandemic would lose their jobs because funding hadn’t been renewed.

Without naming Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, Horowitz, who like Liberman took up his post when a government was formed in June, accused treasury officials of “trying to ignore the government’s guiding principles that set clear indicators for the recovery and strengthening of the health care system.”

In an explicit threat to his fresh coalition partners, the Meretz chief added, “I want to be clear: If we do not reach agreements with the treasury on strengthening the system in an infrastructural way for years to come, there could be a very big crisis here. Without a solution for the healthcare system, we won’t be able to pass the budget,”

A failure to pass a state budget by November will spell the automatic dissolution of the government.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman attends a cabinet meeting at the Knesset on June 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Liberman said earlier this month that he will present the 2021-2022 state budget for a cabinet vote during the first week of August, with the aim of having the Knesset pass it by the November deadline.

Liberman said he believes the budget will pass because even most of the opposition does not want a fresh round of elections. Israel held four elections within two years amid political gridlock. The last budget that was passed, for 2019, was voted upon in March 2018.

At a briefing with reporters in Jerusalem, Liberman reiterated his assertion that the upcoming budget will not raise taxes but rather would see growth come from a reduction in regulations, investment in infrastructure and greater economic efficiency.

“I haven’t come to please anyone,” he declared, hinting at possible cuts that would need to be made. “My commitment is to the Israeli economy and I am prepared to pay the price. We will do what is right for the Israeli economy even if it is not popular.”

He said that just cutting back on regulation, according to OECD forecasts, could lead to savings of NIS 8 billion ($2.43 billion) to NIS 8.5 billion ($2.6 billion) a year. As soon as the provisions come into force, he said, they will contribute to significant economic growth.

The budget will include an estimate of the deficit, but the target hasn’t been set yet, Liberman said. The budget deficit, which ballooned to 11.6 percent of GDP in 2020 because of the coronavirus crisis as the government doled out money to keep the economy afloat amid the lockdowns, was 10.1% of GDP in June. The Bank of Israel has forecast that the 2021 deficit will be 7.1% of GDP — a target that Liberman agreed with, calling it “not excessively optimistic.”

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