gafni - Emil Salman - September 3 2010
Knesset Finance Committee Chairman, United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni. Photo by Emil Salman
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The Knesset Finance Committee yesterday approved the 2011-12 budget for its second and third readings. But despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's promise 10 days ago, the budget includes no extra funds for the fire services.

At the start of the meeting, committee chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism ) asked the Finance Ministry's budget director, Udi Nissan, what had happened to the firefighting funds. Nissan replied that he would submit a supplementary budget request totaling hundreds of millions of shekels for the fire services within two months, once a comprehensive plan to overhaul the services has been finalized.

Both the delay and the failure to cite a specific sum outraged the opposition on the committee, leading Kadima MKs Yoel Hasson and Majali Wahabi to urge their fellow lawmakers not to approve the budget until extra funding for the fire services was included.

Later, Kadima issued a statement accusing Netanyahu of "favoring yeshiva students while abandoning the firefighters," because the committee did approve an extra NIS 19 million for yeshivas and yeshiva students yesterday.

"This is a scandalous decision that sends a clear and embarrassing message to the Israeli public, which is led by a cynical, obtuse man whose order of priorities harms Israel," the statement said.

Coalition chairman MK Zeev Elkin (Likud ) later retorted that the budget passed by a sizable majority, 10-4, "despite Kadima's efforts to turn it into a political circus."

Earlier yesterday, a special committee on the defense budget approved that budget without the extra NIS 6 billion the Defense Ministry had requested at the last minute, thereby enabling the Finance Committee to approve the 2011-12 budget as a whole. But the ministry might still get the extra funds later.