Netanyahu and his Israeli allies pass new budget with massive subsidies for settlements and ultra-Orthodox
JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government passed a new two-year budget on Wednesday, a step that could bring some stability to his coalition and pave the way for him to move forward with his pro-settlement religious agenda.
While the budget could offer Netanyahu some calm within his coalition of ultra-Orthodox and ultra-nationalist parties, Israel’s hardline, it was also expected to deepen divisions in Israel.
Critics have accused Netanyahu of increasing spending by his ultra-Orthodox allies on religious programs that have little benefit to the economy and society at large.
The vote dragged on overnight, with the budgets for 2023 and 2024 finally passing by 64 to 56 votes in parliament after daybreak. This followed weeks of tense negotiations between Netanyahu and his coalition parties.
“We have received the tools, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work,” Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said after the vote.
The new budget has been criticized for allocating nearly $4 billion in discretionary funds, much of it to ultra-Orthodox and pro-settler parties.
This will include controversial stipend increases for ultra-Orthodox men to study full-time in religious seminaries instead of working or serving in the military, which is mandatory for most secular men.
It also includes more money for ultra-Orthodox schools, which are widely criticized for failing to teach students skills like math and English needed in the modern workplace.
The funds also include tens of millions of dollars for hardline pro-settler parties to promote pet projects through government departments they control.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a settler leader, said he hopes to double the West Bank’s settler population in the coming years.
The composition and agenda of the government have deeply divided the country. On Tuesday, several thousand Israelis waving flags demonstrated outside parliament against the budget.
The small protest over the budget follows months of sustained mass protests against a series of proposals by Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the country’s justice system as it stands trial for corruption.
Proponents say the measures are necessary to rein in an overzealous Supreme Court, but critics say the plan would destroy the country’s system of checks and balances and undermine Israeli democracy.
This plan has raised concerns overseas, but is now on hold. Now that the budget has been passed, however, Netanyahu may face renewed pressure from his allies to bring it back to parliament.
After the budget vote, Netanyahu told Israel’s Channel 14 it was “the dawn of a new day” and said the judicial overhaul plan would be revived.