Israeli gov’t approves budget amid criticism, ‘looting’ accusations

Jerusalem, May 24 (EFE).- Israel approved its budgets Wednesday after weeks of internal conflict in the government over the distribution of items and friction with part of its ultra-Orthodox Jewish partners, who pressured for more funds.

The bills were approved amid street protests and criticism from the opposition, who called the budget plan “destructive” and a form of “extortion.”

After hours of debate in parliament, the 2023-2024 budget was validated at dawn by 64 votes in favor and 56 against, amid the discontent of opposition parties and the movement of citizen protests. They said the accounts provide for allocating more money to the ultra-Orthodox religious sector, whose parties are part of the right-wing coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu.

The citizen organizations against the judicial reform – which have been protesting massively since January – mobilized thousands of people Tuesday afternoon before parliament in Jerusalem. They accused the government of “plundering the state coffers” for providing more financing for subsidies to religious groups.

Critics said this would keep many of them out of work and the job market, while growing discontent among the secular Israeli population, who feel the taxes they pay go to the ultra-Orthodox community, which contributes much less at the national fiscal level. More than 50 percent of religious people are engaged in theology, receive state subsidies and do not work.

“The most destructive and worst budget in Israel’s history has been approved,” opposition chief Yair Lapid said Wednesday morning. According to him, the accounts do not address the high cost of living in Israel “and amount to endless extortion.”

The budget proposes allocating some ILS 14 billion ($ 3.79 billion) in funds that will partly go to ultra-Orthodox entities and programs. This is included in Netanyahu’s coalition pacts with his representative forces, Shas and United Torah Judaism.

The prime minister was also pressured by Agudat Israel, one of the two Torah Judaism factions, which asked for more money for the religious education system, with its own schools and a pedagogical plan that does not include subjects such as mathematics or English.

His parliamentarians threatened to reject the accounts if their demands were not met and, after negotiations, Netanyahu promised an added supplement for his schools.

Netanyahu also had to agree to an additional allocation for the Ministry for the Development of the Periphery, the Negev and the Galilee – two regions of Israel – controlled by the far-right Jewish Power party, which refused to support the budget without this condition.

Israel – where political instability has reigned for some time – the processing and approval of budgets has been an element that has generated political crises and even brought down governments in the past.

The budget had to be approved this time before Monday to avoid the executive from reaching a deadlock, parliament from dissolving and new elections being called, making its approval a victory for Netanyahu. EFE


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