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
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
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
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
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
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.