Left and Right Come Together on Budget Issue

YERUSHALAYIM -
MK Bezalel Smotrich. Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90
MK Betzalel Smotrich. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Politics is politics, and at times this makes for strange partnerships, which was evident in the Knesset on Tuesday, as coalition MKs voted to approve an across the board budget cut for all government ministries in order to pay for several programs – among them funds to secure Jewish settlement in Arab neighborhoods of Yerushalayim and in Yehudah and Shomron, and to develop the economy in the Arab sector.

A sharp debate broke out among coalition and opposition MKs at a hearing of the Knesset Economic Committee, which approved the budget cuts. The coalition is chaired by MK Ahmed Tibi of the United Arab List, who personally abstained from the vote, as did fellow UAL MK Aymen Oudah.

But voting for the package – the cuts will also pay for stipends to Holocaust survivors from lands in countries in North Africa that were occupied by the Nazis, to increase budgets for security in schools, and to provide funding for Christian schools – were MKs Betzalel Smotrich (Jewish Home), Roni Falkman (Kulanu), David Amsalem (Likud) and Avraham Chasson (Kulanu). Voting against were MKs from Yesh Atid and Zionist Camp.

The leftist MKs – Miki Levi and Stav Shafir – railed against the funding for security in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and for funding for new communities in Judea and Samaria. Discussions were loud and vituperative, with Tibi halting proceedings for a time before those involved calmed down.

At one point, Smotrich – known to hold very rightwing views – demanded that Tibi and Oudah vote in favor of the cuts. “Do not abstain,” he called out at them. “If you abstain because you don’t want to be seen as voting with me, I will vote against the cuts, and the funding for projects important to you will be denied.” In the end, Smotrich said that he would vote in favor of the cuts, “as is my responsibility as a member of the coalition. However, the allocation of the funds under these programs is asymmetrical, with settlement and the periphery getting only a small slice of the funding.”