Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

24 Shevat 5762 - February 6, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Finance Ministry's High-Pressure Attempt to Cut Yeshiva Support Foiled
by Eliezer Rauchberger and M. Plaut

Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Rabbi Yaakov Litzman of UTJ finally agreed to convene the committee on Tuesday morning to discuss the 2002 state budget, after he received a pledge that all of the promised money would be included in the budget, including NIS 40 million that will be allocated to yeshivas from the budget reserves. The Ministry of Finance struggled all the way to keep out whatever it could, using the time pressure twice to avoid including all the promised funds.

Like the yetzer hora that tries to get as much or as little as it can, the Finance Ministry Tuesday morning tried to leave out NIS 40 million from a NIS 1 billion allocation for all chareidi education after promising the night before to include it all.

After extensive efforts including withstanding terrific public abuse for their obstinacy in holding the entire budget hostage to UTJ's demands, the Finance Ministry promised several weeks ago to include the full chareidi education budget within the regular budget book, as all other educational support is handled.

This week there is intense pressure to finally approved the budget since the prime minister wants to have the budget approved before he leaves for talks in the US.

So, when the budget was presented Monday afternoon to the Knesset's Finance Committee by the director general of the Finance Ministry, Ohed Marani, the Knesset committee's chairman, MK Rabbi Yaakov Litzman, asked whether the government support of the yeshivos and the chareidi educational institutions were included in the regular budget. Marani replied that all of the support of the previous year (which was then, as in previous years, given as yichudim -- special funding) was, as promised, included in this year's regular budget.

However, UTJ's representatives quickly discovered that Marani's statement was duplicitous. Last year the Finance Ministry (FM) initially funded only 10 months' worth of the chareidi education budget, forcing the chareidi MKs to again struggle to get funding for November and December. In the budget presented on Monday, the FM originally included only an amount equal to the ten months of original funding, leaving the total support for the chareidi education about NIS 230 million short of the total of actual support in the last year.

When this was discovered, a commotion erupted at the committee meeting. The UTJ representatives saw this as a serious violation of all of the agreements made with them, including explicit promises given them by the prime minister. As a result, Rabbi Litzman announced that there would be no committee deliberations. "The vote on the budget will take place on the first of April," he angrily declared. According to the law if, by the end of March 31 there is no approved state budget, there are automatically new elections for Knesset.

Rabbi Moshe Gafni, a member of the committee, discussed the issue with the director of the prime minister's office and demanded that he take immediate steps to fulfill all of the obligations to UTJ regarding the support for the yeshivos and the chareidi educational institutions, otherwise the State will have no approved budget during the forthcoming months.

The Finance Minister and the senior personnel of his ministry met to discuss this new development. Attempts to pressure the chairman of the Finance Committee were made, but all of these attempts were rebuffed.

It was only towards evening that Finance Minister Sylvan Shalom apologized, announced that there had been "an error," and that Tuesday morning the full support for yeshivos would be in the basic budget for 2002, including the missing NIS 230 million.

In the wake of this announcement, Rabbi Litzman announced that he would renew the deliberations of the Knesset Finance Committee at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, in the expectation that the support for the yeshivas would be included in full in the Budget for 2002. By Wednesday, according to the schedule, the Knesset plenum is supposed to approve both the Budget Law and the Arrangements Law.

However the meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee was again held up Tuesday morning, when Rabbi Litzman saw that only NIS 190 million had been put into the budget. The meeting was delayed for around two hours. This time Rabbi Litzman had to relent and go ahead based only on a "pledge" to make up the missing NIS 40 million from budget reserves. It was apparently not possible at that point to get anything more than that.

At around noon, the Knesset Finance Committee approved the budget for 2002, sending it to the Knesset plenum for its second and third readings.

Knesset observers said that this is a particularly blatant example of the bad faith negotiations and machinations that go on all the time, and show clearly how difficult it is to get anything. They noted that if Rabbi Litzman had not been the head of the Knesset Finance Committee, it is clear that UTJ would have had much less success. It is hoped that this new approach will avoid much of the unjustified demagoguery that is directed at the chareidi community by those who point to its high level of special funding, which has really always included sums that are properly part of the basic budget. Now, after a big struggle, only the final phases of which was evident in the last two days, it is in the budget.


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