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Knesset passes 2019 budget, putting coalition crisis in rear-view mirror

Lawmakers give okay to NIS 479.6 billion plan for next year after reaching deal to avert government’s collapse

Moshe Kahlon, left, Naftali Bennett, center, and Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on March 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Moshe Kahlon, left, Naftali Bennett, center, and Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on March 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Knesset passed the state’s budget for 2019 in the early hours of Thursday, closing out the parliament’s winter term just over a day after the coalition managed to solve a crisis that nearly saw the government fall and new elections called.

The vote on the budget sailed through 62-54, after the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Shas parties in the coalition agreed to support it in exchange for the passage on preliminary reading of a separate measure allowing Haredi men to avoid conscription into the Israel Defense Forces.

The enlistment measure was fiercely opposed by Yisrael Beytenu, led by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) had threatened to quit the government if the budget was not given the okay by March 15.

A deal reached Tuesday evening allowed Yisrael Beytenu to vote against the conscription measure without facing coalition repercussions. The bill was still able to pass on preliminary reading Tuesday, and will be merged with a version drafted by the Defense Ministry when the Knesset reconvenes following the spring holidays.

The NIS 479,600,000,000 budget passed Thursday is 4.3 percent larger than the 2017-2018 budget and 24.9% larger than the 2015 budget, according to Knesset statistics.

Zionist Union MK Isaac Herzog, the opposition leader, addresses the Knesset plenum on March 12, 2018 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The plan includes NIS 72.8 billion for defense, NIS 64.04 billion for education, NIS 46.59 billion for national insurance and NIS 42.44 billion for health care.

Kahlon called it “the most social budget in the state’s history,” and Knesset Finance Committee head Moshe Gafni (UTJ) praised it for not having any cuts.

However, opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said the passage of the budget nearly a year before it will go into effect showed ” a lack of serious and perhaps a lack of faith in the government itself.”

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