Liberman says axed daycare subsidies will fund efforts against domestic violence

Finance minister allots $32 million for shelters for battered women, programs for violent men; asserts plan to slash funds for full-time Torah students will help ultra-Orthodox

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman attends the Eli Horowitz Conference for Economy and Society, organized by Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem on June 29, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman attends the Eli Horowitz Conference for Economy and Society, organized by Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem on June 29, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday ordered that NIS 55 million ($17 million) be immediately allotted to efforts to prevent and treat the issue of domestic violence, saying his steps to slash daycare subsidies for ultra-Orthodox families in which the father studies Torah full-time would cover the costs.

The money will be used to partially fund the Welfare Ministry’s National Plan for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, which was approved in 2017, but has seen less than half the designated funds transferred for its implementation.

According to the Finance Ministry, the funding will go toward establishing new shelters for battered women, programs for violent men, and increase the number of social workers dealing with domestic violence.

Until the approval of the state budget, which will formally increase the budget of the program, Liberman has ordered the partial funding of certain projects according to recommendation from the Committee for the Prevention and Treatment of Domestic Violence, the ministry said.

In addition, according to the committee’s recommendations, Liberman instructed ministry staff to further examine the funding of the five-year plan and to allot another NIS 50 million ($15 million) for the program in the upcoming state budget.

While the initial plan called for a NIS 50 million injection each year, according to the latest State Comptroller’s report, only NIS 128 million ($39 million) out of the designated NIS 380 million ($116 million) has been made available so far.

Activists protest against cases of violence against women at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on October 21, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“We decided to place great focus on the issue of domestic violence because we see the need,” Liberman said in a statement.

“For us, this is an important statement. We all need to take action against domestic violence,” he said.

According to Welfare Minister Meir Cohen, “Domestic violence is a serious social problem and its treatment requires the integration of all relevant public institutions. In recent years, many services have been added for victims of domestic violence, and cooperation between the Ministries of Finance and Welfare will help us help more and more people in condemning this ugly phenomenon.”

Last week Liberman 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.

The finance minister 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.

Illustrative: Teachers clean a classroom at a daycare in Modiin on May 7, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

In total, the daycare subsidies are estimated to cost the state NIS 1.2 billion ($366 million) annually, of which about a third goes to families in which the father studies at a religious seminary.

Liberman said Tuesday that the steps will end up benefitting the ultra-Orthodox community, even if they raise the ire of its leadership, as it will encourage them to join the job market.

Similar subsidy cuts in 2003, when Benjamin Netanyahu was finance minister, and in 2013, when Yair Lapid was finance minister, triggered a 70% jump in Haredi participation in the workforce, he said.

The steps, Liberman said, are intended to “help them and not to hurt them.” He charged that it is the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties that are hurting their constituencies, by leaving them without income and education and keeping them dependent on handouts.

They are made into “a captive audience, which can then be dictated to about whom to vote in the elections,” he said.

The aim of the steps he is proposing, Liberman said, is to lift the Haredim out of poverty. Depriving them of the educational basics of English and math “leaves them with no other option other than the kollels,” he said, referring to the Torah study halls for married men, most of which offer a small stipend.

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