The budget was approved in a 35-22 vote last week after the
Economic Arrangements Law passed with a large majority.
A large majority was ensured after the government and the
Finance Ministry reached agreements with three opposition
parties to transfer funding in certain areas in exchange for
promises not to vote against the budget and the Arrangements
Law. Most of the opposition parties abstained, but that
allowed the law to pass.
Among the parties was UTJ, which received a pledge to
transfer NIS 290 million ($65 million) for chareidi schools,
yeshivas and kollelim based on an agreement UTJ and
the Finance Ministry signed last year. Avigdor Lieberman's
party, Yisrael Beiteinu, received an NIS-180 million ($40
million) pledge for issues related to new immigrants and
HaIchud HaLeumi-NRP received an NIS-122 million ($27-million)
pledge for issues related to Zionism and Gush Katif
A total of 26 MKs abstained or were absent from the vote as a
result of these agreements, which cost the government a total
of NIS 600 million ($135 million) and guaranteed it a
majority in support of the budget, even if certain coalition
members rebelled by failing to vote in favor.
Opposition members from Meretz, the Likud and the Arab
parties criticized the government's policy of forging
agreements with opposition parties to persuade them to
abstain from the vote. Finance Minister Abraham Hirshson
rejected their criticism, saying agreements have always been
made with parties and since the government represents
everyone it is prepared to give funding to every segment of
the population and for every issue important to MKs, in a
fair and carefully-weighed manner.
MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni lodged criticism against the budget
during the concluding discussion on the Arrangements Law,
saying that in contrast to the declarations made by the
present government to submit a compassionate budget, the 2006
budget does not contain any compassion and is identical to
the budget formulated by Binyamin Netanyahu. He went on to
criticize various areas cut mercilessly, citing a Health
Ministry cut of NIS 70 million ($15 million) for the feeble-
minded, although this funding is a matter of life and death.
"This is one paragraph that has been neglected. Almost
nothing has been said about it. But it borders on pikuach
nefesh. The feeble-minded must be rehabilitated and today
there are developments in the form of community treatment.
This cut damages human life in the fullest sense."
Rabbi Gafni said the Finance Ministry would invariably say it
has nowhere to take the NIS 70 million from, but this is
certainly untrue since at least NIS 3-4 billion is given to
the rich. "For the feeble-minded at the Health Ministry
— there is no money," he said. "For single parents
— no money. For the elderly — no money. But for
the rich, there is."
He noted the government coffers were filled last year and
there was no need to make any cuts that take away from
important issues in order to fund coalition commitments made
to the Pensioners, Shas and Labor. Hardly any sections of the
Education Ministry budget were cut with the exception of
yeshiva funding, he said. "This is almost the only paragraph
in which cuts were made. Almost nothing else was cut. Not
units at central staff headquarters, not the Education
Ministry administration, not the department heads. Nothing.
Almost the only paragraph at the Education Ministry that was
cut was the Torah-based institutions."
In conclusion he defended the agreement made with UTJ, saying
it rectified many years of discrimination and distortions,
and even now the amount being given would not make up for the
slashing of chareidi institutions done by the Sharon-Shinui