Knesset approves large fund transfer for settlements

During heated committee debate, NIS 112m allocated to West Bank construction, NIS 70m granted to ultra-Orthodox schools

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Palestinian laborers working at a construction site in the West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, near Jerusalem, September 16, 2014. (AP/Dan Balilty)
Palestinian laborers working at a construction site in the West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, near Jerusalem, September 16, 2014. (AP/Dan Balilty)

After the Knesset on Monday voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill to dissolve the parliament, members of the Finance Committee on Tuesday issued a series of last-minute public funds transfers, among them an allocation of NIS 112 million ($28.5 million) to the Settlement Division, a government-backed body charged with managing Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank, and housing development in the country’s north and south.

Only NIS 40 million ($10.2 million) of the overall sum, however, are designated for the north and south, while the rest of the money will go to the West Bank. The Settlement Division is part of the World Zionist Organization.

On Monday, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein called to postpone Tuesday’s Finance Committee debate, questioning the necessity of a transfer to the Settlement Division ahead of the March elections. However, the committee’s chairman, Jewish Home party MK Nissim Slomiansky, on Tuesday ordered that the session be held, after Weinstein said he would not intervene in the committee’s decisions.

Tensions soured during the committee’s hours-long debate, with Knesset members hurling accusations and insults at each other over the various approvals, which also included a NIS 80 million ($20.3 million) security grant for Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

“You’ve done nothing at all [in the current Knesset],” Jewish Home party MK Ayelet Shaked said to opposition lawmakers Boaz Toporovsky (Yesh Atid) and Stav Shaffir (Labor), who voiced their dismay over the sharp rise in settlement funding. “Nothing but legarbetz,” she added, using a Hebrew slang term for idly scratching one’s privates.

Shaffir, in response, claimed that Jewish Home had become an “anti-Zionist” party, which only cared about advancing settlement building in the West Bank. Shaffir was thrown out of Monday’s debate on the same allocations.

Earlier, the committee authorized a NIS 780 million ($198 million) transfer to the Education Ministry. The transfer includes a NIS 70 million ($17.8 million) boost in funding for ultra-Orthodox educational institutions, with roughly 50 percent of the transfer designated to schools run by the Shas party, and an additional 38% allocated to private bodies associated with United Torah Judaism.

The committee also approved the transfer of NIS 29 million ($7.3 million) for religious services, though the Finance Ministry’s representative at the debate could not specify which services were among those to receive the funds.

Tuesday’s transfers came following a similar debate Monday that ended without no agreement on the allocations.

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