Coalition Crisis as UTJ, Jewish Home Battle Over Budget

YERUSHALAYIM -

An internal struggle over budgetary allocations rocked the coalition boat sufficiently to require intervention by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu this week.

Finance Ministry officials have been frustrated in their attempts to gain approval of budgetary items totaling billions of shekels at the Knesset Finance Committee. Stormy committee sessions on Monday and Tuesday yielded no resolution, and the monies were still blocked as of Thursday.

United Torah Judaism and Shas MKs are determined to recoup their fair share of state funding after the previous government engineered drastic cutbacks aimed at the chareidi community, and are holding Netanyahu to written commitments.

Shas leader Aryeh Deri declared: “It is unthinkable that any harm should be done to budgets for the Olam HaTorah, which are anchored in the coalition agreement, nor we will allow any discrimination or unfair treatment of chareidi institutions.”

The chareidi community suffered major cuts during Yair Lapid’s term as Finance Minister in the last government, national-religious institutions aligned with Jewish Home benefited from its alliance with Lapid.

Finance Committee member MK Betzalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) has refused to vote for passage of any budgetary items as long as his party’s demands for funding for Yehudah and Shomron had not been fully met. Rabbi Gafni has refused to restore certain funding that has been cut back. As a result, the coalition lacks the majority for passage.

Meanwhile, funds earmarked for the chareidi yeshivos were stalled in the Education Ministry, headed by Bennett, while monies for Yehudah and Shomron were blocked by Rabbi Gafni in the Finance Committee.

An urgent meeting was arranged on Tuesday attended by Netanyahu, Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett, UTJ MK’s Finance Committee Chairman Rabbi Moshe Gafni and Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman, as well as Rabbi Deri, for the purpose of resolving the dispute.

Netanyahu subsequently instructed Zeev Elkin, who had represented Likud in the coalition negotiations, to meet on Wednesday with heads of UTJ and Jewish Home to try to bring an end to the fight.