Several hundred people gathered on Tuesday in central Tel Aviv for the biggest anti-government protest staged by the Israeli right in months, ahead of a key Knesset vote on the state budget.
Patin Mula, a lawmaker from former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, said at the rally that “this corrupt budget is a budget that supports terrorism.” He accused the United Arab List, an Islamist party that is part of the Bennett-Lapid coalition, of "taking our money and killing our soldiers," echoing unsubstantiated media reports suggesting the party was funneling charity funds to Hamas.
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“I’m here because of the Islamic movement. I don’t like protests, but this time I’m scared,” Kobi, one of the protesters, told Haaretz. “I don’t even have a problem with the United Arab List being in the government, but now they hold the balance of power.”
The rally at Habima Square in Tel Aviv was the biggest since a right-wing demonstration in June in front of the Tel Aviv home of Minister Ayelet Shaked, protesting the formation of the government.
The Tuesday demonstration, which was organized by Likud activists, was attended by other party MKs besides Mula, including former ministers Tzachi Hanegbi, Miri Regev and Amir Ohana. Bezalel Smotrich, the chairman of the Religious Zionism Party, and party MK Itamar Ben-Gvir also took part, as did far-right activist Benzi Gopstein.
Regev told the protesters: “Bennett has formed the first Palestinian government in history.”
“Hypocritical left-wing protesters were waving black flags, while we’re waving Israeli flags," she added, referring to the anti-Netanyahu protest movement. "I despise those who try to preach to us ... they called us the people of darkness, but they are people of darkness, and we are the people of light.”
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Ohana said: “We are not looking to stage a revolution – we’re true democrats. Perhaps we don’t come from the ‘right place,’ but we are from all over the country. We aren’t trying to come to power via [police] interrogation rooms and fabricated indictments. We have come to demand a democracy in which the will of the majority is reflected in the composition of the coalition, the government and, mainly, in the prime minister.”
The Knesset began the process of approving the 2021-2022 budget on Tuesday. The coalition wants to have the final vote in by Wednesday, but is readying for a delay of the final approval until early next week.
Members of the 61-seat, slim majority coalition believe they can obtain the required votes easily. Nevertheless, several coalition MKs intend to appeal to opposition members, mainly from the Joint List, if there are concerns that the budget’s passage is in danger. In such a scenario, they will try to convince Joint List lawmakers to leave the Knesset plenum before the vote or abstain, which would ensure the budget’s approval.
The Knesset began its deliberations on Monday, after two years during which Israel went without a new budget. At the beginning of the session, the chairman of the Finance Committee, Alex Kushnir (Yisrael Beiteinu), presented the budget bill, and was followed at the podium by the heads of other Knesset committees involved in preparing the bill, as well as Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
“The budget is replete with reforms meant to aid weaker segments of society, to deal with the cost of living and to create engines of growth,” said Kushnir. Lieberman said “the very fact that a budget was brought forward within 142 days of forming this coalition shows that we’ve been working.”
The session will be concluded by Lieberman, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Kushnir. The session is expected to last for 33-and-a-half hours. The Knesset’s legal adviser, attorney Sagit Afik, said the bill is larger and more comprehensive than any budget bills presented in the last 20 years. She said some key reservations had been raised, adding that the opposition should be given adequate time to present them.
The coalition has defined the vote as a “military operation,” since any dissenting member of the coalition could forestall the process and upend the schedule. Coalition whip Idit Silman (Yamina) and her backup Boaz Toporovsky (Yesh Atid) have drawn up detailed guidelines for Knesset members to minimize the chance of a delay in the budget’s approval. For instance, they’ve asked lawmakers to take light meals to prevent drowsiness, and to wear light clothing.
The budget for 2021 is set at 432.5 billion shekels ($137.8 billion), rising to 452.5 billion in 2022.