1. If you budget it, it is no dream: Against all odds, with the chips stacked against it, going up against the opposition, Israel achieved the impossible and did … what pretty much every other country on God’s green earth manages to do every single god-damned year: It passed a budget.
- But let’s not let reality intrude on Israel’s jubilation over managing a task that pretty much every household or corporation on the planet somehow does, and without needing nearly 48 consecutive hours of voting on hundreds of items to get there.
- Pretty much every news outlet is leading with a variation on “state budget for 2021-2022 passed for the first time in years,” as its top headline Friday morning. They are somehow proudly spreading the news as if sobering up after a three-year bender — wrought not only by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who blocked passage of past budgets for narrow personal considerations, but also you, Israeli voters, who cast ballots again and again for the same leadership so many times that it took settlers making peace with an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood to put you out of your voting slip-happy misery — (almost there) weren’t a source of eternal shame.
- Stories on the passage get high real estate and give wide latitude to politicians to crow over their achievements, along with the narrative that doing so will stabilize the coalition (and oodles of pictures of politicians snoozing, arguing or sucking lollipops). But journalists who have covered the budget drama obsessively for months not only balance their recording of the historic moment with a dose of reality on what a low bar passing the budget was, but also suddenly seem ready to move on to whatever new argument might be brewing.
- “The day after the budget vote is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. The new day holds opportunities and risks, hopes and threats, for the Bennett-Lapid government,” writes Haaretz’s Yossi Verter, who nonetheless proclaims that “The government is immune to being toppled, unless it collapses from the inside.”
- You’re just going to have to do this again in a year, warns Zman Yisrael’s Shalom Yerushalmi, noting that even though the 2023 budget is not due until March of that year, the coalition will have to start work on it at least five months before, with the price of failure being Yair Lapid losing his rotation and only filling in as caretaker prime minister for a few months before elections. “He’s got long months waiting for him during which he’ll try to smooth out ruffles and calm tensions.”
- “Good morning, after 22 months without, Israel (finally!) has a budget, and Bennett and Lapid have a little bit of political quiet. The question is for how long,” he asks.
- Army Radio springs a question on what nightmares may come in an interview with Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who assures the station that happy days are here to stay.
- “We’ve never hidden our disagreements between parties, but we have the ability to work together despite it,” Elkin says. “We can continue to do it in the future. Part of the reason we got together… was to bring sanity to Israel.”
2. Thanks, Bibi: I’m scared to ask what the other part was, but journalists are plenty up on another reason they got together, a shared dislike of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
- “The coalition should be sending its flowers to Netanyahu this morning,” tweets Yedioth columnist Nadav Eyal. “Without him there would be no government. Had he upped and retired, the budget would not have passed. Netanyahu bogged down the political system for years. Now he’s only bogging down the right, and giving the current government the time to carry out revolutions.”
- Netanyahu is also to thank for the fact that passing the budget is something to write home about, writes Tal Shalev in Walla.
- “There’s the fact that the last prime minister refused to pass a budget to stay in power, which upgraded the most procedural matter to mythological status for the just-not-Bibi government, and a way to prove the validity of the ‘change government,’” she writes.
- “Seen through this lens, the state budget law takes on a totemic role,” pens ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur. “This is no mere act of governance or fiscal policy. It isn’t even about the dramatic reforms meant to streamline import regulations, increase transparency and competition among banks or reduce corruption in the state kashrut supervision system. It is a rebuke, and a validation.”
- There is also plenty of focus on what a big blow the passage of a budget is to Netanyahu.
- “This government, which is convincing in its normalcy, deals daily defeats to Netanyahu, who has not managed to translate favorable polls into meaningful action. Passage of the budget is another step on the way to the end of the Netanyahu era,” writes Ravit Hecht in Haaretz.
- “No rabbit is coming out of the hat now,” teases Sima Kadmon on Yedioth Ahronoth’s front page, a reference to Netanyahu’s reputation for pulling political magic at the last moment.
- “By the way, the 2021 budget passed 10 days ahead of the deadline, by a coalition of 61, with a lot of inexperienced MKs. The 2022 budget was passed at an insane speed with only one vote lost. A bit of a mark of shame for the opposition,” tweets Yuval Segev of Army Radio.
3. Losing my religious: Things are so bad that Israel Hayom, the de facto voice of Likud and specifically Netanyahu, basically ignores the budget passage. Instead, it leads off with a story claiming that the ultra-Orthodox parties are planning to jump ship to the coalition, which may or may not be part of some spin meant to tar both the Haredim and the coalition’s secular parties as being willing to work together.
- “However, high-ranking government officials say that the new political situation created following the passage of the state budget could make cooperation a possibility.
- Recently, relations between the coalition and the Haredi parties have seen a few interesting milestones. For example, although Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Lapid have both spoken about the need to make major cuts to the budgets allocated to the Haredim, the money for Haredi yeshivas in the state budget remains high, at 1.71 billion shekels ($550 million), “only 5% less than the sum for the same purpose in the previous budget,” reports the paper.
- ToI’s Rettig Gur also notes the possible flirting going on, pointing at a recent incident in which the Knesset Finance Committee played ball, and then some, when approached for a favor by United Torah Judaism leader Moshe Gafni: “Gafni broke ranks with the Likud-led opposition, made a specific and detailed request, and was received with as many honors as a Knesset committee chairman could bestow, given his every wish in a way that could not have been interpreted as anything but a signal of willing cooperation by the coalition,” he writes.
- “I want to push a plan to bring the Haredi community more into society, minister Merav Cohen tells Army Radio. “There’s a chance to do things that the Haredi leadership would automatically oppose out of fear of looking like we are getting too close, but which are correct from a socio-economic point of view.”
4. So what’s in the budget? Answering that doesn’t appear to be the main priority in the mediasphere, but some brave reporters do dive into the massive arrangements bill underpinning the spending plan.
- In Walla, Yaki Adamker picks four main goodies: raising retirement age for women by three years, a congestion tax for the Tel Aviv area, an imports reform meant to conform with EU standards and a move to take the Kashrut supervision industry out of state hands.
- ToI’s Ricky Ben David sets out in detail 13 lucky budget items, writing that “The overall budget marks a major reorientation of Israel’s allocation of resources and financial priorities in the coming years and is based on key principles such as streamlining government operations, upgrading public services, boosting economic competitiveness, cutting back on regulations to support growth in the private and public sectors, limiting Israel’s “non-observed economy,” or shadow economy, boosting transportation, housing, energy and technology infrastructures, and investing in human capital by training and integrating sidelined populations into the workforce.”
- In Globes, Oren Dori writes that while much attention is on the 2022 budget, since 2021 is pretty much over, passage means that a NIS 13 billion spigot will now open for government offices and ministries.
- The money, he writes, “will go to projects that had been stuck until now. This includes important developments in healthcare, transportation, infrastructure, welfare and more.”
- And while Netanyahu and Ra’am made sure everyone knew that the budget included an unprecedented NIS 10 billion five-year plan for Arab society, Channel 13’s Yosef Hadad writes that Arab voters won’t be bought off so easily: “It’s not enough for the Arab public to see headlines on fiscal achievements, they want to see results on the ground. Ra’am’s test after the budget passage will be to bring results, prove that the money is flowing to the right places, and for Arab society to feel a change for the better.”