In the light of security threats on every border and an economic slowdown forcing budgetary constraints, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made his priority clear on Sunday:
“Defense comes first,” he declared at the weekly cabinet meeting.
“I hope that quiet prevails for a long time, but we’re prepared for any scenario on the Gaza front and on the other fronts, including the Golan, of course,” Netanyahu added.
“We’ll make up for the shortages that have been caused in the defense establishment. This reflects our understanding of priorities, in which defense comes first. We have done great things here, but this also requires us to tighten our belts in order to enable the IDF, the Israel Security Agency, and the other units to continue defending Israel effectively,” he said.
The cabinet then proceeded to vote cuts in ministerial budgets totaling 1.9 billion shekels, to make good on the promise of defense, but strenuous objections were heard, both within the cabinet and from the opposition.
Minister of the Environment Amir Peretz warned that the cuts would affect the most economically disadvantaged, and that the Ministry of Finance should be required to present an alternative plan of using surpluses or increasing taxes by 1% for all those earning over NIS 15,000 a month, and according to the tax brackets.
Minister of Welfare Meir Cohen vowed to fight the cuts. “The Ministry of Welfare is the last hope for hundreds of thousands of families on the brink of economic and emotional collapse. Whom will we deprive? Those who have nothing to put in their children’s sandwich for school?” Cohen asked.
“I emphasize that not only will the welfare budget not shrink; it will grow next year, including initial budgets for the cost of implementing the conclusions drawn by the Allalouf Committee on Reducing Poverty.”