Former finance minister Avigdor Liberman launched a scathing attack on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday for the massive subsidies set to be provided to Haredi educational institutions without requiring they teach core curriculum studies.
“I agreed to give a lot of money [as finance minister] in exchange for core curriculum studies,” Liberman told Channel 12.
“What Netanyahu did, and for that he deserves to suffer in hell every day, is he took those people and said: ‘I will give you the same funds without the need to study core studies. I want you to remain in poverty, without education, and you will suffer,'” Liberman said.
“The man is willing to sell out on all values in exchange for power,” he charged.
“The fact that Netanyahu has prevented Israeli children from studying core studies is intolerable, unacceptable and unforgivable,” Liberman said.
Out of NIS 13.7 ($3.8) billion in discretionary funds approved by the government on May 14, about NIS 3.7 billion is promised to be spent on increasing the budget for stipends at Haredi yeshiva student institutions, despite criticism that the community’s schools skirt full Education Ministry oversight and fail to teach core subjects to prepare students for the workforce, including math, science and English.
Another NIS 1.2 billion is budgeted for private, non-supervised educational institutions, which also do not teach core subjects such as math and English.
Netanyahu’s Likud party responded that “every day the national instigator Liberman flounders in the opposition, is heaven.”
Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi of the Likud party was also quick to attack Liberman, employing gematria, a form of Jewish numerology that assigns numerical values to letters and words. “Yvette Liberman is a well-known expert on the affairs of hell… after all, ‘Yvette Liberman’ = 364 = Satan,” Karhi said, using the lawmaker’s Russian name.
Karhi additionally claimed that Liberman, a former ally of the prime minister, was “jealous” of Netanyahu.
In his interview Sunday, Liberman also addressed fights within the coalition, saying he believed that United Torah Judaism (UTJ) head Yitzhak Goldknopf and Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir would be “given money through a back door” to silence their threats not to vote for the budget, which must be passed for the government to survive.
“They will find sources and give them the money,” Liberman said. “I prepared a budget that was for the benefit of the citizens of Israel, whereas this is a budget for the benefit of the relevant sectors. This is the most partisan budget since the establishment of the state.”
Far-right National Security Minister Ben Gvir has ordered his Otzma Yehudit lawmakers to boycott Knesset votes in a bid to pressure allied parties to divert more funds to his party’s priorities in the budget.
Meanwhile a standoff within the coalition over the upcoming deadline to pass the state budget has escalated over the weekend, with Goldknopf threatening to thwart its passage unless his demands for an additional NIS 600 million ($164 million) are met.
The Knesset is preparing to vote on the 2023-2024 overall budget, allocating NIS 484.8 billion this year and NIS 513.7 billion in 2024, up from NIS 452.5 billion in 2022. Failure to pass the state budget by May 29 would trigger the automatic dissolution of the government and snap elections.
Citing promises made as part of the coalition deal with Netanyahu’s Likud, the Agudat Yisrael faction of UTJ, led by party leader Goldknopf, has for days been threatening to pull out of the coalition and vote down the budget if it does not receive the demanded funds for full-time religious scholars in addition to the billions already pledged to the ultra-Orthodox community.
Goldknopf has insisted he is unwilling to compromise on the demand for additional funds and has given Netanyahu until Sunday to respond to his ultimatum, Channel 12 news reported Saturday.
Unnamed senior coalition members were quoted as saying that revisiting the budget at this stage, after the lengthy process of approving it in the Knesset’s Finance Committee, would be “madness.”
Agudat Yisrael has three lawmakers in the 120-member Knesset, meaning the 64-strong coalition can pass the budget without their votes. However, the faction has urged the other UTJ faction, Degel HaTorah led by Moshe Gafni, to join its demand by withholding its four votes.
Moreover, several reports said Goldknopf was threatening to resign as housing and construction minister, allowing him to return to the Knesset as a fourth member of the Agudat Yisrael under the so-called Norwegian law, to vote against the budget. A Thursday report said Jerusalem Affairs Minister Meir Porush, also of the Agudat Yisrael faction, had threatened to do the same.
According to a Kan report on Thursday, Netanyahu has pressured the Finance Ministry’s Budgets Department head Yogev Gardos to meet with Porush to discuss the demands. The two did meet recently, but ministry officials are opposing the allocation of the funds due to the potential harm to the economy.
Gardos has warned that the allocation of funds to ultra-Orthodox institutions and initiatives creates negative incentives for Haredi men to seek employment and will harm the country’s labor market and the economy as a whole.
Furthermore, Gardos has cautioned that if the employment participation rate among Haredi men is not encouraged, by 2065 the government will have to increase direct taxes by 16 percent to maintain the same level of services that it provides without increasing the deficit.
The Haredi community, which makes up about 13.5% of the country’s total population, is expected to grow to 16% by 2030. The ultra-Orthodox population’s current growth rate of 4% is the fastest of any group in Israel, according to Central Bureau of Statistics data.
On Saturday, some 150,000 anti-government protesters rallied around the country, including against the priorities of the looming state budget. Protest organizers said they would hold a demonstration near the Knesset on Tuesday during the discussion on approving the budget.