Opposition leader Yair Lapid, chair of the Yesh Atid party, on Tuesday denounced the government’s proposed state budget as “destroying the future” of Israel’s children by funneling money to the Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, community while allowing men in that community to avoid employment.
Speaking at a conference, Lapid also lambasted what he said was the budget’s complete failure to tackle the cost of living crisis or stimulate economic growth, and argued that the nearly NIS 14 billion in discretionary funds allocated by the government alongside the budget would be better spent achieving those goals.
Voting on the budget will begin in the Knesset on Tuesday, and it is likely to be approved late that night or Wednesday.
Of the NIS 13.7 billion in discretionary spending, NIS 3.7 billion will go to increasing the budget for stipends for full-time Haredi yeshiva students who receive exemptions from military service.
Another NIS 1.2 billion is budgeted for private, non-supervised Haredi educational institutions, many of which do not teach core subjects such as math and English, while additional funds will go to the official Haredi education system, and for construction of buildings for religious purposes and supporting Haredi culture and identity.
“The budget the government is bringing to a vote today is destructive. There is no good news in it, there is no reform in it that will improve the state of the economy, there is nothing to drive [economic] growth, there is nothing to fight against the [high] cost of living; there is only endless extortion,” Lapid declared in his speech to the Herzliya Conference at Reichman University.
“It is a budget that encourages people not to study, not to work, not to provide for their children. This budget tells them: ‘You don’t have to work. The suckers will will pay for you, and the suckers’ children will pay for your children,” fumed Lapid.
The Yesh Atid leader, who rose to political prominence campaigning against the welfare benefits and IDF draft exemptions granted to the Haredi community, said that just 49 percent of Haredi men are in the workforce today, and that the rapid growth rate of the community meant the financial burden on the general Israeli public would continue to increase.
Lapid argued that the failure to require Haredi schools to teach core curriculum subjects meant that Haredi men would continue to face severe difficulties entering the job market even if they wanted to.
The two governments in which Lapid served — from 2013 to 2015 as finance minister and then from 2021 to 2022 as foreign minister and interim prime minister — both failed, however, to increase the amount of required study hours for core curriculum subjects in Haredi schools.
“The fact is that the latest budget no longer condemns only the ultra-Orthodox children to a life of poverty, it now condemns our children to poverty as well,” continued Lapid.
He said that the “the world of Torah and yeshivas” was important, but insisted they could “not serve as cities of refuge” from military service and earning a living.
“It is unthinkable that in the State of Israel there will be hundreds of thousands of pupils who will complete 12 years of schooling without having heard even once about the Pythagorean theorem, who will have never heard a single sentence in English or about the Declaration of Independence and the importance of democracy,” he said.
The opposition leader noted that the government’s policies had brought about a great awakening of liberal Israelis who oppose the coalition’s direction.
“In the past few months, a lot of bad things happened in the State of Israel, but one miracle also happened. The liberal camp has risen up — millions of people who believe in a Jewish and democratic, national and liberal state, and are also willing to fight for it to be so,” he said.