Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday announced plans to introduce new conditions for receiving daycare subsidies for kids up to age 3, effectively ending them for some 21,000 children whose fathers are full-time yeshiva students.
Liberman said the subsidies will be granted only if both the child’s parents work at least 24 hours a week. Currently, only mothers must meet this requirement for a family to receive the monthly subsidy of NIS 1,000 ($305), with fathers exempt if they are involved in studies.
The change is expected to end the subsidies for around 18,000 households in which the fathers study Torah full-time and will take effect at the start of the new school year in September.
Families in which the father does not work at least 24 hours a week but is involved in academic or vocational studies will still be eligible for the subsidies, which will end for yeshiva students only.
In total, the daycare subsides are estimated to cost the state a yearly NIS 1.2 billion, of which about a third goes to families in which the father studies at a religious seminary.
“Today I decided to put an end to the ongoing distortion in the State of Israel in which the working public has been discriminated against,” said Liberman, who heads the right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu party.
He added: “I will continue to lead moves that will eliminate disincentives to join the labor market and to look out for the public that works, pays taxes, serves in the army and does reserve duty.”
The move was denounced by Haredi opposition lawmakers, with Shas party leader Aryeh Deri calling the step “destructive and wicked” and designed “to hurt families with many children simply because they are Haredi.”
“[Prime Minister Naftali] Bennett and [Justice Minister Gideon] Sa’ar, who promised ‘to look out for the ultra-Orthodox,’ formed a government of hatred,” Deri charged.
United Torah Judaism leader Moshe Gafni called Liberman “evil,” while his party’s No. 2, Yaakov Litzman, accused the treasury chief of acting out of “revulsion and hatred” toward Torah students.
“This is part of the policies of the Reform [Judaism] government that is waging a struggle against all that is holy and dear to us, in perfect coordination with the messages of wild incitement that Liberman has led in recent years,” Litzman said.
He later told the Ynet news site that Liberman “is simply insane. He’s mad with hatred.”
UTJ MK Yaakos Asher sent a letter to Economy Minister Orna Barbiva of the centrist Yesh Atid party urging her not to back Liberman’s plan, Channel 12 news reported.
“Do not repeat the mistakes of the past,” Asher was quoted as saying.
The letter was also sent to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who leads Yesh Atid, and apparently referred to policy changes he initiated when serving as finance minister between 2013-2014 — when Shas and UTJ were not in the government — and which were objected to by the ultra-Orthodox.
Among those reforms was introducing the requirement for both parents to work, which was scrapped in 2015 after then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed a new government with the Haredi parties.
UTJ and Shas, which are closely allied with Netanyahu’s Likud party, have denounced the power-sharing government formed last month by Bennett and Lapid, claiming it would endanger the Jewish state and lashing out at the new premier as “wicked.”
According to Channel 12, some members of the government, including Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked of Bennett’s Yamina party, are still hoping the ultra-Orthodox will eventually agreed to join the ruling coalition.
While Bennett was aware Liberman was planning to cut the subsidies, the network said that he did not know the finance minister had made a final decision to do so and would announce it. The report also said unspecified members of the government were promising the Haredi parties that there would not be further measures by Liberman that they oppose.