The government coalition advanced its state budget for 2021-2022, presenting it to the Knesset Finance Committee on Monday.
In upbeat accompanying remarks, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman told the committee: “It is important before presenting the budget to note that the Israeli economy is working and growing. In tax collection, we are exceeding expectations, [and] in terms of the volume of credit card activity we are breaking all the records,” he was quoted as saying by The Jerusalem Post.
He listed a number of growth engines, such as the Metro project in Gush Dan, investment in artificial intelligence, and laying a comprehensive fiber-optic groundwork for the 5th generation internet.
As for the budget itself, Liberman touted it as the most socialized ever. It grants an extra NIS 700 million to the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services, NIS 150 million towards reducing domestic violence, NIS 1 billion to the Ministry of Education, NIS 1 billion to the Public Security Ministry, 1,100 new policemen, NIS 300 million for a yearly stipend for holocaust survivors, NIS 800 million to the handicapped, NIS 1 billion to handicapped IDF veterans and NIS 5 billion towards fortifying the northern border.
An early volley from the opposition came from MK Shlomo Karhi (Likud). He said the budget discriminates against the weaker parts of society. For example, the proposed congestion tax in the Gush Dan area was unfair towards people in the periphery, as it will apply only to people entering the area from outside and not those who reside there.
Karhi also criticized the government’s decision to shut down the “readjustment stipend” for people over 67 who were put on leave without pay during the COVID crisis, as well as the proposal to raise the retirement age for women, leaving many without a needed safety net.
Lieberman reiterated his policy of no lockdowns, and cited the disappointing experience with them in other countries.
“I propose to examine the subject of the lockdowns,” he said. “I am closely following the two countries that are enforcing the longest and harshest lockdowns, New Zealand and Australia. In recent days, New Zealand has experienced another outbreak.”
“It must be understood that the solution to COVID is twofold: vaccines and personal hygiene. The whole subject of lockdowns does not work, and they severely cripple the economy,” he said.