Knesset Row Over Budget Shifts to Defense

YERUSHALAYIM -

The Israeli government supplied an answer to the question of how it proposes to finance Operation Protective Edge without raising taxes, as it pushed through the Knesset a transfer of 3.3 billion shekels to the Defense Ministry from budgets for transportation, water and earthquake preparedness, Globes reported on Tuesday.

Members of the Knesset Finance Committee were not a very willing rubber stamp, however, as the vote to approve the decision split 8 to 5, with one MK having to be forcibly ejected after she protested the Finance Ministry’s refusals to answer her questions.

According to the committee’s decision, NIS 1 billion will be transferred immediately to the defense budget, with an additional NIS 2.3 billion approved for use against the multi-year budget. Details of the revised allocations were not disclosed, even to the committee members.

“The chairman of the Finance Committee is lying to the public and doing everything to prevent me from revealing the truth,” MK Stav Shafir (Labor) said. “This time, he set a new record by expelling me from the committee by force. Discussion that take place without legal advisors, millions of shekels in cuts made without any explanation to the committee members — representatives of the public — this is corruption under Knesset sponsorship, and I’m not willing to be a part of it.”

Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Jewish Home) was a particular target of Shafir’s contumely. “The only thing that interests you is Jewish communities in the territories, not what’s happening in the south.”

Retorted Slomiansky, “You’re a liar; you should be ashamed of yourself.”

Committee members present said it was unprecedented for an MK to be removed from a discussion merely for asking questions. One called out, “A Jew doesn’t expel another Jew” (referring sarcastically to a slogan used by opponents of the 2005 disengagement from Gaza by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon).

MK Rabbi Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism), voting with the opposition, said, “We can’t approve an allocation whose purposes we don’t know.”

Meretz Party leader MK Zehava Galon said: “It is impermissible for Knesset Finance Committee members to serve as a rubber stamp for the transfer of billions of shekels to the joint defense budget committee without getting any explanation where the money is going, and why the budget reserves aren’t being used,” she said.