Meretz ups threat to oppose budget as talks to boost healthcare funds break down

Cabinet is set to review and vote on the Finance Ministry’s proposal for the new state budget, but many points of disasgreement remain between ministers

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz speaks during his visit to the Beilinson Medical Center, on July 27, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz speaks during his visit to the Beilinson Medical Center, on July 27, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

With ministers set to vote Sunday on the Finance Ministry’s proposal for the new state budget, negotiations between the Treasury and the Health Ministry have hit a wall, according to Hebrew media reports Friday.

Meretz, whose party leader Nitzan Horowitz is the health minister, is stepping up its threats to vote against the budget if the health budget is not increased, the reports said.

Horowitz has demanded expanded health budgets, citing coalition agreements, and has warned that the health system is “on life support and needs an urgent transfusion, irrespective of the coronavirus…. It is functioning in emergency mode and it’s impossible to continue like this.”

The minister has accused Finance Ministry officials of “trying to ignore the government’s guiding principles.”

Horowitz’s comments reflect concerns that broader healthcare is being neglected amid the pandemic.

Last month, before the new government was sworn in, plans for an official event honoring the health system for its COVID-fighting efforts took an embarrassing turn, after seven hospitals announced they were boycotting the event because they felt the government had abandoned them financially since the pandemic.

A month earlier, doctors held a strike charging that they kept the nation going through the pandemic but were now being “tossed aside.” The Israel Medical Association called the 24-hour strike, along with several protests, over fears that doctors employed during the pandemic would lose their jobs because funding hadn’t been renewed.

Doctors at the coronavirus isolation ward of Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, June 30, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

In an explicit threat to his fresh coalition partners, the Meretz chief said Monday: “I want to be clear: If we do not reach agreements with the Treasury on strengthening the system in an infrastructural way for years to come, there could be a very big crisis here. Without a solution for the healthcare system, we won’t be able to pass the budget,”

A failure to pass a state budget by November will spell the automatic dissolution of the government.

Liberman said earlier this month that he will present the 2021-2022 state budget for a cabinet vote during the first week of August, with the aim of having the Knesset pass it by the November deadline.

Liberman said he believes the budget will pass because even most of the opposition does not want a fresh round of elections. Israel held four elections within two years amid political gridlock. The last budget that was passed, for 2019, was voted upon in March 2018.

At a briefing with reporters in Jerusalem, Liberman reiterated his assertion that the upcoming budget will not raise taxes but rather would see growth come from a reduction in regulations, investment in infrastructure and greater economic efficiency.

Finance MinisterAvigdor Liberman speaks during a faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party in the Knesset, Jerusalem, on July 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He said that just cutting back on regulation, according to OECD forecasts, could lead to savings of NIS 8 billion ($2.43 billion) to NIS 8.5 billion ($2.6 billion) a year. As soon as the provisions come into force, he said, they will contribute to significant economic growth.

Other ministers beyond Horowitz have raised reservations about various aspects of the budget, and the coalition is expecting exhaustive negotiations throughout the week.

On Thursday Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata warned she would not support the budget unless the Finance Ministry agrees to her demand for increased funding to bring Ethiopian immigrants to Israel.

“I will never allow them to continue to abuse the Ethiopian community and abandon them at the bottom of the government’s list of priorities,” Tamano-Shata wrote on Twitter. “Those waiting dozens of years to make aliyah from Ethiopia and their families in Israel have suffered enough.”

“I will oppose any budget that does not support significant immigration — even if I have to resign from the government and return to the Knesset to vote against their abandonment,” she warned.

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