While the far-right cabinet in Israel is facing a myriad of challenges, internal disagreements over annual budget is now threatening the integrity of the government from within.
This Friday, disagreement among members of Israel’s Knesset over the amount and distribution of the annual budget reached to alarming levels, with Orthodox Jewish parties threatening to quit the coalition government if their budget demands were not met. They are seeking an additional NIS 600 million ($164 million) to what they already get from the annual budget to fund full-time religious scholars, in addition to the billions already pledged to their community for similar purposes.
The United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party, for example, clearly announced this Saturday that if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t transfer 627 million NIS which were promised in the coalition agreement, by Sunday, they will leave Israel coalition government.
Yitzhak Goldknopf, the leader of Agudat Yisrael party, who is also serving as Israel’s Construction and Housing Minister, also warned that in case his party’s concerns regarding the budget demands are not met, then he will resign his position in the government and return to his place as a member of the Knesset in order to vote against the State budget.
At the same time, the Otzma Yehudit party is demanding that Netanyahu solve his disagreement with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism) regarding the budget for the Negev and Galillee Ministry. Two days earlier on Wednesday, the far-right Otzma Yehudit party walked out of Knesset floor votes in a bid to pressure allied parties to divert more funds to its priorities in the 2023-2024 state budget.
To prevent more destabilization, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Otzma Yehudit chief Itamar Ben Gvir shortly after the party’s vote boycott. A source close to Ben Gvir said the premier agreed that there was a problem with current allocations, and that a solution must be found, but not that they found one.
Internal disintegration is devouring Israel’s far-right government
Extreme position taken by the Otzma Yehudit on the budgetary issues was immediately and strongly rebuked by the coalition chairman and Likud MK Ofir Katz, who said in a statement this Saturday that the party was “paving the way for the fall of the right-wing government.”
“Ben Gvir cares more about media coverage than maintaining the right-wing government and the integrity of Israel. In a government, problems are solved together, and despite his efforts to spin this, he is not the only one who cares about the Negev and the Galilee,” Katz also noted in the statement.
He also threatened that if Ben Gvir and his party collapse the government, it would be better, because then “we’ll go to elections and the public will kick out those who brought down a right-wing government.”
Lashing out at Katz, a source close to Ben Gvir said that the party was only “asking for equality,” referring to the fact that the Negev and Galilee Ministry received NIS 460 million in discretionary funds, a sum of money promised under political deals, in the draft budget, and that other parties had apparently received larger sums as part of such political deals.
In the upcoming two-year budget expected to be approved by the end of May for Israel, a total of NIS 13.7 billion in discretionary funding was divvied up between parties, but each party in the Knesset now seems to want to receive a larger slice of the pie, and each party is fighting for it, regardless of what consequences it could have on the unity of the fragile government in Israel.
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