There are 140 clauses in the current coalition agreement of United Torah Judaism with Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, 6 times greater than the number in the coalition agreement between the same two parties in 2020. And 52 of these clauses are dedicated to the budgeting of Haredi educational institutions to guarantee their independence. Now, UTJ leader MK Moshe Gafni, who is also the chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, is threatening to stop deliberations on the state budget, because Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich is one hundred million shekels short of the amount that was promised.
There’s more: Deputy Transport Minister Uri Maklev, also from UTJ, is still waiting for the NIS 100 million for public transportation in the Haredi sector, which Smotrich apparently did not include in the same state budget.
Now, this is mostly muscle flexing on the part of the Finance Committee Chairman. He knows that in late May, the Finance Ministry is planning to issue a document containing the changes in the budget allocations, including coalition money transfers, to UTJ, Shas, Otzma Yehudit, and Religious Zionism. Gafni’s tantrum is there just in case Smotrich forgets.
Coalition money transfers are an extra-budgetary budget that allows individual coalition MKs to nourish groups and causes that are near and dear to their hearts. Once they are approved, those funds become part of the budget, and the finance ministry has to figure out how to pay for them. In May of 2022, the Bennett-Lapid government approved half a billion shekels’ worth of coalition transfers, in case anyone thought this phenomenon was limited to the religious coalition partners.
Another reason Chairman Gafni cites in his plan to delay the vote on the budget in his committee is the new draft bill, which he says must be completed and submitted to the Knesset, or no budget.
Everyone expects the crisis to be resolved, for one thing, because it’s fake, and for another because the polls show that should this government collapse, the right-wing bloc will not get even close to its current 64 mandates. The most optimistic polls give them 58.
But, of course, polls or no polls, if a state budget is not passed in a second and third reading by May 29, the Knesset will be dispersed and a date for new elections will be set. Over 200 million shekels and a draft law that officially sanctions young Haredim over age 21 as not fit to serve? Never.