Israeli Cabinet Set to Approve $292 Million in Grants for the Self-employed

The move, which still needs the Knesset's approval, is designed to keep a legislator from Naftali Bennett's Yamina party in the shaky governing coalition

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Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Benny Gantz in the Knesset last year.
Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Benny Gantz in the Knesset last year. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

The cabinet on Sunday is expected to approve 1 billion shekels ($292 million) in grants for the self-employed who were battered by the omicron wave that struck Israel at the beginning of the year.

The move, which still needs the Knesset's approval, is intended to appease lawmaker Abir Kara, deputy minister in the Prime Minister's Office and a member of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's Yamina party.

Kara threatened to resign from the tottering governing coalition following last month's resignation of his party colleague Idit Silman from her role as coalition whip, leaving the coalition with 60 lawmakers, the same size as the opposition.

Nir Orbach, another Yamina lawmaker who considered leaving the coalition, was assuaged when Bennett agreed to convene the Higher Planning Council of Israel's Civil Administration in the West Bank.

That body is expected to approve 4,000 housing units for Jews in the West Bank, alongside the construction of housing units for Palestinians.

Alarmed after Silman's shock resignation, Bennett set out to mollify the two members of his shrinking Knesset caucus, which entered parliament after last year's election with seven seats.

Abir Kara at a meeting of Yamina legislators at Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's home in Ra'anana last month. Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

Orbach is under immense pressure from the wider right wing, and Kara is suffering harsh criticism from organizations representing the self-employed. Kara was included in Yamina's election slate as an advocate for the self-employed, but he did not ensure that this group would receive compensation for its losses during the omicron wave.

Orbach and Kara took advantage of Bennett's dire situation; when Silman resigned, Orbach made Bennett promise that the Higher Planning Council would meet before the Knesset begins its summer session next week. Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who for months delayed the convening of the council, has agreed to do so now and prevent the government's fall.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who shares Kara and Orbach's views, pressured Bennett to meet their demands.

Kara immediately scheduled a meeting with Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Yair Pines, director general of the Prime Minister's Office. Lieberman pledged to Kara that within a month the cabinet would be asked to approve grants for the self-employed.

Yamina and other coalition parties say this move is expected to ease tensions in Yamina and delay or prevent other lawmakers from resigning.

The main problem remains the United Arab List, which last month said it was freezing its role in the eight-member governing coalition after the police clashed with Palestinians on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

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