Ultra-Orthodox Pressure Leads Finance Committee to Approve Budget Changes

Treasury to redistribute NIS 100 million to religios institutions, NIS 67.2 million to settlers and Gaza evacuees.

As the fiscal year comes to a close, the treasury, under pressure from ultra-Orthodox factions, has asked the Knesset Finance Committee on Wednesday to approve a series of changes to the state budget for 2009.

The finance committee approved the changes within 85 minutes, with only 6 of the 19 committee members present.

The changes, which do not increase the budget, include redistributing funds applied toward a variety of purposes, including political meetings, religious institutions, the disengagement plan, former presidents and ministers without portfolio.

The treasury is seeking to transfer NIS 100 million to ultra-Orthodox and religious institutions, after MKs from ultra-Orthodox factions including Shas, United Torah Judaism and the National Religious Party leveraged pressure on it.

The treasury is also requesting to transfer NIS 67.2 million to residents of the West Bank and to those who were evacuated in 2005 from Gush Katif and five West Bank settlements. Of the total sum, NIS 32.2 million will go to the Sela administration, which is in charge of handling the evacuees. The remaining NIS 35 million will go toward grants for use in the West Bank.

The finance committee discussed the treasury's request to cut NIS 220,000 from the budget of former President Moshe Katzav, which would leave him NIS 844,000. Other former presidents also had their budgets reduced, and current President Shimon Peres had his budget for international travel cut by NIS 100,000, leaving it at NIS 4.08 million.