Thousands of right-wing activists and Likud supporters protested in Tel Aviv on Tuesday against Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government as the deadline to pass a budget and shore up the coalition approaches.
The rally, organized by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, included appearances by party lawmakers Tzahi Hanegbi, Miri Regev and Amir Ohana, as well as Religious Zionism MKs Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Holding signs that read “You don’t have a mandate to erase the Jewish state,” “A Jewish government for a Jewish state,” and “Bennett/Shaked betrayal is a crime,” the protesters in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square called to topple the government and return Netanyahu to power.
Likud MK Fateen Mulla told the crowd that coalition lawmaker Mansour Abbas of the Arab Ra’am party was “taking our money and killing our soldiers,” Haaretz reported.
The rally appeared to be the largest protest to date staged by the right-wing opposition against the government.
The government has until November 14 to pass a much-delayed 2021 budget. If it fails to do so, the coalition will automatically be dissolved and new elections will be triggered.
Marathon debates on approving a state budget began Tuesday in the Knesset and were expected to continue through the night and the following day as the government aimed to break a 3.5-year spell during which no national budget was passed.
The debates marked the first time that a government has presented a state budget for final approval in parliament since 2018, due to a prolonged political deadlock that saw successive governments fall before they could bring a plan to the Knesset.
Voting on the budget will begin late Wednesday. A final vote on the budget is not expected to be held until Thursday night or Friday morning. The prolonged voting process is due to hundreds of preliminary votes on specific objections lawmakers can raise on the budget and the accompanying Arrangements Bill, which contains the details of how the financial plan will be put into practice. Both bills must be passed before a November 14 deadline.
Failure to pass the legislation will automatically trigger fresh elections, which would be Israel’s fifth in three years.
The last time an Israeli government managed to pass a budget was in March 2018. Failure to approve the budget was what brought down the previous government late last year.
The budget bill for 2021 passed its first reading in September by a 59-54 vote, with the 2022 budget getting the go-ahead with a vote of 59 to 53.
Heading to a United Nations climate summit in Glasgow on Sunday, Bennett was confident the budget would pass despite “desperate” attempts by the opposition to prevent its passage and effectively topple the government.
The diverse composition of the government — made up of right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties — has been complicating the effort to pass a budget, with the opposition of a single lawmaker theoretically able to bring down the wafer-thin coalition.
Yamina MK Amichai Chikli said he will vote against the budget — meaning the coalition has a maximum of 61 votes in the 120-seat Knesset — and the same party’s Yomtob Kalfon said he and other lawmakers had been approached with offers to defect to the opposition but rejected them.