Hotovely Calls Foreign Ministry Cuts ‘Targeted Assassination’

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu arriving at a conference recently at the foreign ministry office in Yerushalayim. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s Foreign Ministry was reportedly the biggest loser in the Finance Ministry’s draft budget for 2019, according to the The Times of Israel on Monday.

If the cuts are approved, Israel would shut down a fifth of its foreign missions and shed a third of its staff.

Israel’s deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely denounced the proposed cuts: “This is an outrage that we can’t let pass. The Finance Ministry has decided to carry out a targeted assassination of the foreign service, and at a time when Israel is expanding its foreign relations and the ministry needs an expanded budget.”

Hotovely said she plans to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is also foreign minister, to “prevent this impossible decree.”

The budget proposed eliminating 22 Israeli diplomatic missions abroad over three years, to save NIS 176 million ($51 million), and laying off 140 out of 686 of the staff in Yerushalayim over four years, netting another NIS 40 million ($11.6 million).

Israel currently maintains 69 embassies, 23 consulates and five special missions, including its delegation at the United Nations.

The new budget will likely touch off another round of worker strikes, like the one in 2014, which hampered diplomatic services around the world, over a protracted wage dispute.

Other budget cuts include: NIS 130 million from benefits given to new immigrants and means tests for state assistance; NIS 40 million ($11.6 million) is to be saved by refunding only 60 percent of VAT on goods that tourists buy in Israel and take overseas, instead of the current full refund; a NIS 30 million ($8.7 million) cut of the Education Ministry’s training budget; NIS 12 million ($3.5 million) — 20 percent of the whole budget — chopped off funds earmarked for Torah education; NIS 11 million ($3.3 million) less to be spent through cancellation of the Religious Affairs Minister’s discretionary “reserve fund” and combination of the Religious Affairs Ministry and the Chief Rabbinate.

Some allocations will be put off to save money: A longer school day will have to wait four years, to save NIS 1.2 billion ($348 million) in 2019 and a further NIS 2.4 billion ($700 million) in 2020. The move has now been delayed for 20 years.

The ministry also called for a three-year delay in the full implementation of a 1998 law obligating all public buildings to be handicapped-accessible because the program is behind schedule.

The proposed cuts and postponements are aimed at freeing up the funds for certain new initiatives, such as an increase in monthly benefits to the disabled, to elderly people receiving nursing care, and the awarding of negative tax credits for working people on low pay to increase their in-pocket income.

It also funds an expansion of subsidies for after-school activities within the framework of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s “Net for the Family” initiative, a NIS 4 billion ($1.1 billion) annual program which includes additional tax credits for working parents of children up to age 6, higher income supplements for low-income earners, equalization of tax credits for working fathers and mothers, and tax cuts on cellphones and children’s clothes and shoes.