gafni - Emil Salman - October 22 2010
Moshe Gafni. Photo by Emil Salman
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Nir Kafri
The cost is NIS 135 million a year for full-time yeshiva students. Photo by Nir Kafri

The chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism ), introduced a bill this week to provide income allowances to full-time yeshiva students. The High Court of Justice banned similar payments in June, saying they discriminated between students in academic institutions and those in yeshivas - and ordered them stopped as of 2011. (For more coverage, see Page 1. )

United Torah Judaism and Shas, both members of the governing coalition, have made their support of the 2011-2012 budget conditional on the acceptance of the estimated NIS 150 million in allowances for yeshiva students.

Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu does not have a Knesset majority for the budget without the two parties, and if the budget is not passed by March 31, new elections will have to be called within 90 days. Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz are keen to pass the budget and Economic Arrangements Bill by the end of December.

The two ultra-Orthodox parties say Netanyahu has already promised coalition support for the change, and the proposed legislation will be fast-tracked and not have the normal 45-day waiting period before Knesset consideration. Instead, it will be presented on Sunday to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, which will decide whether to give government backing to Gafni's bill.

The Knesset House Committee will be asked next week to approve an exemption from the waiting period; if the committee approves, the bill will be brought to the Knesset on Wednesday for a preliminary reading. The budget and Economic Arrangements Bill will be brought for a first reading and vote on Tuesday, so Shas and UTJ are putting pressure on Netanyahu and Steinitz to approve Gafni's bill at the same time.

And the timing of Gafni's bill is certainly anything but a coincidence. That's also the reason the Ministerial Committee on Legislation will vote on Sunday - two days before the budget law is brought for its first Knesset vote.

Gafni's committee is responsible for preparing the budget for its second and third readings in the Knesset.

NIS 1,000 a month

The total cost of the proposed stipends is between NIS 120 million and NIS 135 million, based on a monthly allowance of about NIS 1,000 for more than 11,000 yeshiva students who meet various criteria for the allowances. But out of a total budget of NIS 348.2 billion, that's a small price for Netanyahu to pay to keep his government in power.

Six other MKs also sponsored the bill, three from UTJ, three from Shas and Uri Ariel (National Union ).