Smotrich presents budget changes, argues they’re mostly geared toward war efforts

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich says that the 2023 budget changes he is bringing for government discussion today are mostly oriented toward the ongoing war effort, amid criticism for not fully cutting funding to fulfill political promises from the plan.

The budget, he says, reorients NIS 17 billion ($4.5 billion) toward defense and an additional NIS 13.5 billion ($3.6 billion) for civilian war needs.

Among the emergency measures, Smotrich says the budget amendment puts NIS 3.5 billion ($930 million) toward funding hotel stays for the over 100,000 Israelis evacuated from their border communities in the south and north.

NIS 2 billion ($530 million) will flow to the National Security Ministry to establish and arm community defense teams, as well as to arm the police. American officials have expressed concern that the National Security Ministry is also arming West Bank settlers who have harassed Palestinians, and have reportedly frozen shipment of some rifle orders to Israel.

In early November, a White House spokesperson said that Israel promised the US to not arm West Bank community defense teams with US-sourced weapons.

Regarding criticism that Smotrich has not fully cut funding for pre-war political promises to coalition parties, which were approved in May but reevaluated by an October cabinet decision, Smotrich says that today’s discussion does not need to reapprove the 30% of political allocations that he has not decided to change.

In October, the cabinet decided to freeze all coalition funds that had not been transferred out of the treasury, so that they could be redirected to the war effort. Among them are a controversial NIS 300 million ($80 million) earmark for Haredi private schools, and hundreds of millions of shekels for West Bank settlers.

Smotrich has not cut these items and they are not currently in the plan to funnel money to the war effort.

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