Finance Minister Yair Lapid on Tuesday accused Shas leader Aryeh Deri of spreading lies over a deal to integrate core curriculum studies into the ultra-Orthodox party’s school system in exchange for maintaining school funding.
Lapid took to Facebook to give his account of the cabinet’s early Tuesday morning decision to approve the 2013-14 budget and to reveal more details of his interaction with Deri, who told reporters late Monday night that threatened cuts to schools that don’t teach a core curriculum had been canceled.
Lapid wrote that during the course of budget discussions on Monday, Education Minister Shai Piron came to him with a problem: he had realized that a key provision in the budget would completely nix funding to Shas schools, without setting up any immediate alternative.
Lapid and Piron decided together to delay cutting the funding to the Shas school system for six months and called Deri to discuss the matter, after which a deal was formulated in which Deri agreed in principle to integrate core curriculum at a later date, and in the meantime Shas schools would continue to receive state funding.
Currently the state provides funding to ultra-Orthodox schools, but does not oversee their operations or determine their study subjects.
According to Lapid, however, Deri used the opportunity “to take us for a ride,” and told reporters that Lapid and Piron had given in to the Shas leaders demands and canceled the planned educational cuts.
“I forgot who I was dealing with,” Lapid wrote on Facebook. “I don’t understand it. It’s not only an obvious lie; he also destroyed the possibility that we will work with him in the future on issues important to his constituency.”
Lapid wrote that since becoming finance minister, he has been in almost constant negotiations with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon over potential massive cuts to the defense budget, but there have been “no slurs, no leaks, [and] no attempt to influence the process with rumors.”
Lapid and Piron’s Yesh Atid party on Monday characterized the deal, which was front page news in the Hebrew media Tuesday, as the first time in the history of Israel that the ultra-Orthodox school network would fall in line with the rest of the country’s education system.
Deri said the agreement was the beginning of discussions. His opposition Shas party has come out strongly against the proposed budget, which would cut welfare entitlements that many ultra-Orthodox rely on, among other austerity measures.
The Cabinet voted 20 to 1 to pass the biannual budget after a day of marathon meetings that stretched from Monday morning to nearly 6 a.m. Tuesday.
Next month the budget will go to the Knesset, where its details will be haggled over in the Finance Committee before being voted on in the assembly.
The passing of the budget by the cabinet was “the first step in the journey,” Lapid wrote on his Facebook page. “It’s a difficult budget that includes a tax increase and the biggest cuts in the country’s history, but it is also a budget of hope that will within a year and a half significantly improve conditions for the Israeli middle class.”
Joshua Davidovich contributed to this report.