The chareidi public and UTJ were shocked following the release of figures on the proposed Isareli government budget for the coming year that shows truly harsh budget cuts for Torah institutions and religious affairs in the 2008 fiscal year as tabled in the Knesset on Monday this week.
UTJ representatives voiced staunch protest against the new decrees, such as canceling funding for yeshiva students from abroad and slashing the yeshiva budget. UTJ members also expressed astonishment over the silence of Shas, which is part of the government and the coalition.
During the meeting UTJ was presented with some of the cuts listed in the budget book for 2008, compared with 2006 and 2007. The Education Ministry budget increased by NIS 3 billion ($740,000) from NIS 26 billion ($6.4 billion) to NIS 29 billion ($7.2 billion). At the same time the budget for Torah-based institutions funded by the Education Ministry was reduced by 50 percent from NIS 692,235 ($170,000) to NIS 310,630 ($77,000).
The kollel support budget was slashed from NIS 446,809 ($110,000) to NIS 148,561 ($37,000). Likewise the yeshiva budget was cut from NIS 92 million ($23 million) to NIS 4 million ($1 million). Funding for Jewish culture dropped from NIS 90 million ($22 million) to NIS 45 million ($11 million).
A similar picture emerged in welfare funding. Although the Welfare Ministry budget increased by NIS 600 million ($150 million), funding for dormitories at Torah institutions was cut from NIS 40 million ($10 million) to NIS 23 million ($5.7 million).
"Once again, year after year, in one government after the next, it has been proven that the lobbying system wins," said MK Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz. "We have to strive and aim to anchor in law as much as possible and receive what we are entitled to rightfully and not as charity. Once again we face a campaign of threats, lobbying, sycophancy and debasement. Apparently this has been decreed against us by every government, including the current government.
"However, we will press forward and keep our eyes on the goal. We will mobilize all of our resources to keep the Torah world going from a budget standpoint, and we will gird our loins during the coming weeks leading up to the vote on the budget in order to rectify the distortions and restore to the Torah world what they are trying to steal from it."
On Tuesday MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni voiced staunch protest before the Knesset plenum, saying, "The Jewish public in Israel and around the world will not forgive the government and the coalition with its many traditional members, which has dealt a severe blow to lomdei Torah, the kind of blow reminiscent of dark ages in Jewish history. But most of all this applies to the Shas Party, of which it can be said, `Chaveirim le'ish mashchis.'
"Shas, which pretends to be a religious-chareidi party, is a full partner in the movement to eliminate the Torah world chas vecholiloh, and their hand does not quiver as they vote time after time with this destructive coalition bent on doing away with funding for the Torah world in the State of Israel."
If UTJ is asked to abstain from voting on the state budget, which contains numerous social cuts, "it would take a sum of NIS 582 million ($144 million) to keep the budget at its current level, without taking into account the natural growth in the number of students," said Rabbi Gafni.
MK Rabbi Shmuel Halpert also voiced his objections during Tuesday's plenum, saying in the past five years the budget has been cut from over NIS 1.2 billion ($300 million) to a mere NIS 310 million ($77 million). "This is a cruel, unprecedented cut in funding for Torah institutions. The budget for Torah institutions has decreased by 70 percent since 2002. The yeshiva budget for next year has been cut by 90 percent...Had this happened in another country we would call it antisemitism. So how should we call it in the State of Israel?"