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Tens of millions to haredi education, Jewish identity causes

Knesset panel advances budget, with opposition allocated millions

Finance Committee approves package to fund government for 2021-2022 for a 2nd, 3rd reading in the plenum after 6-hour session that sees opposition withdraw thousands of challenges

Coalition MKs Yael Ron, Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, Alex Kushnir, Nira Shpak, Vladimir Beliak and Meir Yitzhak Halevi pose for a photo after advancing the government's budget proposal through the Knesset's Finance Committtee on October 28, 2021. (Knesset Spokesperson's Office)
Coalition MKs Yael Ron, Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, Alex Kushnir, Nira Shpak, Vladimir Beliak and Meir Yitzhak Halevi pose for a photo after advancing the government's budget proposal through the Knesset's Finance Committtee on October 28, 2021. (Knesset Spokesperson's Office)

The Knesset Finance Committee advanced the new coalition’s plan to fund the government for the years 2021 and 2022 in the pre-dawn hours of Thursday morning after a heated, six-hour session that saw tens of millions of shekels allocated at the request of the opposition.

The budget will now be brought to the Knesset floor for a vote on its second and third readings. It will need to pass a final vote by November 14 in order to prevent snap elections.

In recent weeks, coalition lawmakers have expressed increasing optimism regarding their chances of passing a budget, with no one in the narrow, 61-seat government interested in another election, despite the various ideological differences between them.

The last time a coalition managed to pass a budget was in March 2018. Failure to do so was what brought down the previous government late last year.

The Finance Committee meeting that began Wednesday night was slated to be a lengthy session from the start, given the roughly 30,000 challenges submitted by the opposition in an effort to derail the legislation.

After several hours of debate, lawmakers agreed to a compromise that will see funds allocated based on a number of requests made by the opposition. As a result of the compromise, the opposition lawmakers agreed to withdraw most of their challenges.

The two sides agreed on the allocation of NIS 50 million (approximately $15.6 million) for various projects at the request of the opposition, with an additional NIS 41 million to be paid out in 2022.

Of those funds, NIS 15 million (approximately $4.7 million) will be transferred to independent education (which is mainly the religious education sector), another NIS 15 million to a Torah education fund, NIS 7 million ($2.3 million) for the strengthening of Jewish identity, and NIS 5 million ($1.5 million) to renovate hospitals in the periphery. Funds were also allocated for settlement boarding schools.

Illustrative: Ultra-orthodox Jewish children at a school in Jerusalem on August 9, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Additionally, the Joint List party secured NIS 15 million (approximately $4.7 million) to be paid in social security contributions for students studying abroad.

The budget laws passed will also see NIS 50 million ($15.67 million) allocated for projects aimed at strengthening Jewish culture in so-called mixed cities across the country, NIS 6 million ($1.88 million) allocated for counseling centers and emergency shelters for young people who have ceased upholding a Haredi lifestyle, and NIS 9.5 million ($2.98) million in supplementary funding allocated for centers assisting victims of sexual assault.

Finance Committee Chairman Alex Kushnir congratulated the panel’s lawmakers in a statement after the legislation was advanced, saying, “We made it through a very significant process here, first and foremost for the country. The last budget passed here was in March 2018. This budget contains lots of good economic news [for Israel’s citizens] in addition to historic reforms.”

The Yisrael Beytenu lawmaker went on to thank MKs from both the coalition and the opposition for participating in the marathon session, which featured rare cooperation between parliamentarians from opposite sides of the aisle.

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