MKs Clear Extra $1.46B for Defense Spending in Stormy Session

Allocations come in final day of current Knesset, which is dispersing for elections.

A guard removes Shaffir from Monday's meeting.
A guard removes Shaffir from Monday's meeting. Emil Salman

In a stormy six hours of debate on Monday the Knesset Finance Committee approved a budget supplement of 5.8 billion shekels ($1.46 billion) for defense and the redistribution of hundreds of millions of shekels among other government ministries.

The allocations came in the final day of the current Knesset, which is dispersing for elections. But the voting and accusations hurdled by lawmakers showed that campaign considerations were already at work.

Knesset sources said Likud Knesset members were cooperating with ultra-Orthodox lawmakers in hopes that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would get their backing if he leads the government after the March 17 election.

“You’re no longer in the opposition,” MK Yariv Levin (Likud) shouted at MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism).

The ultra-Orthodox MKs Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) and Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) gave their backing to the spending shifts even though they officially they belong to the opposition. Some 550 million shekels went to the Economy Ministry for preschools, 530 million shekels for intercity roads and 350 million shekels for public transportation.

The reallocations were detailed in five pamphlets containing a total of 240 pages. Some committee members only received the documents yesterday morning.

Figures in Yesh Atid, now consigned to the opposition after party chairman Yair Lapid was fired last week as finance minister, said they expected Likud MKs and the now Likud-controlled Finance Ministry to approve additional allocations for Haredi institutions by the end of December.

They also linked Netanyahu’s new plan to exempt basic food products from the value-added tax (see story this page) was part of the a political deal. “The cat is out of the bag. Netanyahu’s dirty deal with the Haredim in the service of the extreme right will lead to approval of funding for settlements in the guise of money going to the defense budgets,” said MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid).

The coalition failed, however, to win approval yesterday to allocate 187 million shekels for spending on settlements. The requests were submitted to the Knesset Finance Committee but blocked by MK Elazar Stern, whose Hatnuah party, led by former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, was also booted out of the coalition last week. Haredi lawmakers also failed to cooperate to get the allocations approved.

Litzman denied that his party had made a deal with Likud, noting that he had supported the defense increase last week. He said Haredi MKs were supporting the government for now in order to prevent any chance of an alternative coalition being formed.

“I will vote the opposite of whichever way Yesh Atid is voting,” Litzman vowed.

The extra money for defense — 3.6 billion shekels of which is earmarked for expenses relating to Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip last summer — will come from budget reserves and money left over the 2013 budget, explained a treasury official.

Committee chairman MK Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi) expelled MK Stav Shaffir (Labor) six times and MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) once from the meeting.