PM: We passed the budget, we’re moving on to four good years

Lapid slams ‘most destructive budget in nation’s history’; Ben Gvir hails ‘new dawn’

Gantz says new national budget, passed after marathon overnight session, means citizens ‘will pay the price’ for prioritizing Haredi demands over soaring cost of living

Opposition leader Yair Lapid delivers a speech in the Knesset plenum during the budget debate, May 23, 2023 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition leader Yair Lapid delivers a speech in the Knesset plenum during the budget debate, May 23, 2023 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition leaders on Wednesday morning assailed the state budget passed by the government after a marathon Knesset session, accusing the ruling coalition of failing to tackle the cost of living, while funneling funds to causes that were detrimental to national interests.

“While you were sleeping, [the coalition] passed the worst, most destructive budget in the history of the country,” Opposition Leader Yair Lapid charged. “It brings no fresh tidings, no attempt to fight the cost of living – just endless extortion. This budget is a violation of the contract with the citizens of Israel, and our children and children’s children will pay for it.”

Knesset lawmakers okayed state budgets for 2023 and 2024 in the early hours of Wednesday morning, ending months of coalition bickering over funding priorities that had threatened to upend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

The opposition has focused its criticism on Netanyahu’s allocation of billions in discretionary funds to his ultra-Orthodox and far-right allies, who were threatening to vote against the budget and trigger snap elections.

With a May 29 deadline to pass a budget or call new elections looming, Netanyahu had scrambled in recent weeks to meet his coalition partners’ demands, only clinching some deals Monday to pave the way for the vote, which began late Tuesday.

Of the NIS 13.7 billion in discretionary spending allocated to satisfy political promises, 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, for construction of buildings for religious purposes and supporting Haredi culture and identity, and a food stamp program.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, MKs and ministers after the Knesset passed the 2023-2024 budget in Jerusalem, May 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich also agreed to fund expanded stipends to yeshiva students to the tune of up to NIS 250 million ($68 million), using any surplus funds left over from ultra-Orthodox schools.

MK Moshe Gafni, one of the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, hailed the passing of “a good, responsible budget for the benefit of the country’s citizens.

“Now our task is to lower the cost of living and tackle housing prices for the sake of all citizens, and with God’s help we will succeed,” he added.

MK Benny Gantz, leader of the opposition National Unity party, warned that “the citizens of Israel will pay the price” for a budget that “prioritizes political dealing and is founded on hush money.”

“The country has been taken hostage by an extremist coalition that sacrifices the economy and society on the political altar,” he said. “This is an antisocial, antipatriotic and anti-leadership budget. It is a bottomless pit, and after it was dug, Netanyahu let his partners in and allowed them to dig even deeper. Today is a sad day for the country.”

National unity party leader Benny Gantz sits in the Knesset plenum during the budget debate, May 23, 2023 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In contrast, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir hailed “the dawning of a new day, with many good tidings.”

Ben Gvir, who leads the the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, touted a “NIS 9 billion increase for the National Security Ministry, just as we promised – a raise of some 20 percent for police officers, the recruitment of thousands of officers and prison guards, and the establishment of a national guard, along with great tidings for residents of the Negev and Galilee.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) shakes hands with National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (R) at the Knesset, alongside other coalition party heads ahead of passing the 2023-2024 state budget vote, May 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ben Gvir, who had been threatening to bolt the coalition if his demands weren’t met, reached an agreement with Netanyahu on Monday evening that allocates an additional NIS 250 million ($68.3 million) to the Negev and Galilee Ministry in 2024.

He has alluded to the fact that his party’s demands for more budgeting are part of a bid to boost the Jewish presence in the Negev and Galilee in Israel’s south and north, respectively, regions that are home to large Arab communities.

After slogging through a seemingly unending roster of objections leveled by the opposition in hopes of delaying proceedings, MKs finally voted to approve the final parts of the two-year budget just after 6 a.m. Wednesday, capping a boisterous all-nighter in the plenum.

Lawmakers voted 64-55 along coalition lines on the final two readings for the 2023 budget, the 2024 budget and for a bill setting funding policy.

United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni delivers a speech in the Knesset plenum during the budget debate, May 23, 2023 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The passage buys Netanyahu and his government another 18 months until the Knesset must approve another budget, clearing the coalition’s largest internal point of contention.

Smotrich applauded the passage of what he characterized as a “good budget” that “focuses on growth, infrastructure, encouraging investment in high tech, agriculture, massive investment in the health system, which has been neglected for years, massive investment in sovereignty and the defense establishment, and massive investment in higher education and all aspects of the education system.”

Netanyahu tweeted: “We won the elections, we passed a budget, we’re moving on to four good years.”

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