Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, July 19, 2023.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich responded Tuesday morning to reports that he decided to freeze for two months a five-year program of NIS 2.5 billion ($680 million) in eastern Jerusalem, including NIS 200 million ($54 million) for higher education institutions there. Smotrich told Reshet Bet Radio that “the money has no professional justification, except catering to the political need of the heads of municipalities ahead of October’s local elections.”

Smotrich delivered the exact same response to Interior Minister Moshe Arbel’s letter regarding the transfer of political grants to the Arab municipalities in the amount of NIS 200 million, which former Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked had pledged to Ra’am Chairman Mansour Abbas.


The minister noted that “the Arab municipalities receive the balancing grant which is intended to help weak communities just like any other municipality in the State of Israel, based on equal criteria. There is no and never been justification to favor the Arab municipalities even more, and give only them a special grant that the weak municipalities in the Jewish sector do not receive – other than a political demand by Abbas who wanted to make political capital on the state budget and bribe his voters in Arab society.”

Smotrich also wrote Minister Arbel (Shas) that “contrary to what was said in your letter, the professionals at the Ministry of Finance also believe that this budget has no professional justification. They opposed it in the previous government and it was passed against their recommendations.”

Smotrich added: “Another problem with these budgets is that they often go to criminal and terrorist organizations that have taken over the tenders and budgets in many of the Arab municipalities.”

Finally, Smotrich argued: “As for the claim that the Arab municipalities built on this budget and will therefore run into difficulties – with all due respect, this is a fundamentally unfounded argument. The local municipalities approved their budget for 2023 before the end of 2022 – the period of the election campaign and the negotiations for the establishment of the new government.

“During that period, there was no government in place and certainly no approved state budget to build on. The municipalities knew that they were being promised coalition funds, which were not based on the previous, leftist government’s real budget and therefore there is no reason in the world that it would be handed out by our government either.”

The finance minister concluded: “Do you imagine that if, God forbid, a left-wing government is formed here one day, it will continue to cover our coalition funds, which reflect our priorities and values because the budgeted entities count on them?! The priorities of our national government, mine as finance minister and I am convinced yours as interior minister, are different from those of the previous left-wing government and we should not apologize for that.”


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