Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has succeeded in passing a two-year state budget after overcoming a series of rifts within his coalition of far-right and religious parties.
Parliament voted through the 1tn-shekel spending package in the early hours of Wednesday, after Netanyahu struck deals with two factions that had threatened to withhold support for the budget unless their demands for greater funding were met.
The final package included billions of shekels for Israel’s fast-growing and fervently religious Haredi community, whose leaders are key Netanyahu allies, funding for settlements in the occupied West Bank regarded as illegal by most of the international community, and a new national guard demanded by ultranationalist national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Netanyahu hailed the passing of the budget — which envisages spending of Shk484bn in 2023 and Shk514bn in 2024 — as the “dawn of a new day” and said his government’s priority was now to lower the cost of living in Israel, where inflation has reached 5 per cent.
Asked on Channel 14 News whether his government would now return to a controversial judicial overhaul that he delayed in March after one of the biggest waves of protests in Israel’s modern history, Netanyahu answered: “certainly”.
Opposition leaders were quick to warn against a resumption of the judicial overhaul, with Benny Gantz, head of the National Unity party, accusing the prime minister of being “drunk on power once again”.
“I’ll remind Netanyahu that it is stupid to repeat the same action and to expect a different result,” he wrote on Twitter, pledging that protests would restart if the judicial overhaul returned.
The passing of the budget — without which early elections would have been triggered — was celebrated by Netanyahu’s coalition partners, with finance minister Bezalel Smotrich saying it would “provide stability and certainty to the economy”. Ben-Gvir said the budget deal had delivered “lots of good news”.
But opposition politicians lambasted the spending package for doing too little to rein in inflation, and for channelling significant resources to the ultraorthodox education system.
The funding for the Haredi education system is a particular bone of contention for secular Israelis because ultraorthodox schools are not required to teach core subjects such as English and maths, and students instead devote much of their time to studying the Torah.
Critics say that the measures will disincentivise Haredi men — only half of whom work and almost none of whom do military service — from seeking employment. This will over time put mounting strain on the Israeli state budget as the Haredi share of the Israeli population is forecast to grow from about an eighth today to around a third by 2065.
“While you were sleeping, the worst and most destructive budget in the country’s history was passed. There is no good news . . . only endless extortion,” Yair Lapid, leader of the largest opposition party Yesh Atid, wrote on Twitter.
“This budget is the violation of the contract with the citizens of Israel, which all of us and our children and our children’s children will still pay for.”
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