After months of constant protest against the government’s judicial overhaul plan, people in Israel are now out in the streets of Jerusalem to show their opposition to the pro-Orthodox budget that the Netanyahu government plans to pass.
Thousands of Israelis marched through Jerusalem on this Tuesday to protest against the government’s plans to hand more cash to the ultra-Orthodox minority. Beating drums, holding Israeli flags in hand, and chanting against the Netanyahu government, protestors marched through Jerusalem to parliament as voting got underway Tuesday night. The demonstrators, organized by same activists behind anti-judicial overhaul campaign, accuse government of looting state coffers to meet demands from Haredi politicians.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is already hated by Israelis for his efforts to limit the Israel Supreme Court’s powers in favor of the Knesset, announced earlier this week that his government would willingly grant married ultra-Orthodox men engaged in religious study rather than work a total of 250 million shekels ($67.5 million). These include grants to yeshiva students, unregulated religious schools that do not teach core subjects like math and science, and funding a food stamp program that is not tied to working and is criticized as tailored to disproportionately benefit the ultra-Orthodox community.
The extra budget that has sparked a national outrage in Israel is in fact part of an agreement between Netanyahu and the United Torah Judaism party, one of the ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition, to ensure its support for the budget. To this controversial extra budget, there should be added other budget allocations traditionally made to the ultra-Orthodox through various government ministries.
To read between the lines, the budgets for 2023 and 2024 facial years include at least 5.9 billion shekels ($1.6 billion) in discretionary earmarks for the ultra-Orthodox community that had been demanded by coalition partners but which are largely unpopular with the general public.
Will Netanyahu step back again?
After months of constant protest against the Netanyahu’s government plan to overhaul the judiciary, Netanyahu had to finally succumb to peoples’ will and on March 27 announced a “pause” to allow for talks on the overhaul which were moving through parliament and split the nation.
The whole idea started back in January 4, when the Netanyahu’s new government announced a plan to allow parliament to overturn some Supreme Court rulings and grant the government more say in nominations to the bench, which sparked protests across Israel as the protestors believe the plan would ruin Israel’s democracy. The announcement also caused fears in Israel’s tech and financial sectors that foreign investors would be scared away if the plan is passed into law.
And now, demonstrators hope that once again, they can force Netanyahu to get off the high horse and amend the budget proposal before it is finalized in the Knesset next week.
So far, however, the Prime Minister seems to be too stubborn to give in, as he pledged Tuesday after the protests that parliament would approve the fiscal budget. “We are approving a responsible budget, a budget that keeps the fiscal framework, a budget that is being praised by rating agencies,” Netanyahu said ahead of the vote.
Criticizing the budget proposal, opposition leader Yair Lapid said that the budget was “destructive” as it included funding for ultra-Orthodox Jews that discourage them from taking a more active part in the Israeli economy and get money only because of their far-right beliefs.
“This is a budget that encourages people to not pursue higher education, not work, not provide for their children,” he said, asserting that it contained “no growth engines, no remedy for the high cost of living, only endless extortion.”