Late Thursday night, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s office sent out a cryptic note saying: “About the report on Kan 11 News, no such thing has happened.”
What did Kan 11 News report? Earlier on Thursday night, the channel’s well-connected political reporter Michael Shemesh said that just before the vote on the budget in the Knesset, tensions in the coalition continue to rise. At the center are Agudath Israel Ministers Yitzhak Goldknopf and Meir Meir Porush’s demand from the Prime Minister for a budget increase of half a billion shekels. According to Shemesh, in the discussions held to reach a response to the latest demand, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich threatened Netanyahu that he would resign if the Haredim get their extra funding, stressing: “This will not pass on my watch.”
Incidentally, Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni and Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri also oppose the Agudath Israel ministers’ demand.
Shemesh also reported that Netanyahu’s office has been pulling all the stops to get the Finance Ministry’s head of the Budget Department, Yogev Gardus, to at least take a meeting with Minister Porush. Finally, Minister David Amsalem (Likud) was sent to get the meeting going, and Gardus gave in. Porush delivered Agudah’s demand: the increases in the budget in favor of Haredi yeshiva students and educational institutions should include retroactive payments – take the new increases and multiply them by the number of years before the increase – or else, Netanyahu should find someone else to vote for his budget.
To remind you, Minister Smotrich’s response to the report of his threat to walk was: “It never happened.”
Here’s why I’m a tad skeptical: Religious Zionism Minister Orit Struk told Reshet Bet Radio on Friday: “I don’t like the whole government, but there are ways to solve things within the family.” She added that if any member of the coalition would cause the collapse of the government, “they’ll have to reckon with the public and with history.”
In other words, things aren’t smooth, not even close to smooth, and whether Struk is warning her party’s chairman Smotrich or the head of Agudah Goldknopf, she clearly sees that the toppling of this government––the closest ever to an ideal right-wing government––could be around the corner.
Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke Thursday night in Merkaz Harav yeshiva, the bastion of the national religious sector in Israel, and said: “It’s time to stop threatening, stop boycotting, and stop climbing trees,” noting: “We do not have and will not have a better government.”