Israeli Ministers Plan Budget Cuts for ultra-Orthodox to Negotiate for Coalition Support

Ministers Lapid and Lieberman plan to cut subsidies for daycare, yeshivas in bid to bring ultra-Orthodox lawmakers in the opposition into negotiations to cancel the measures – and vote with the coalition

Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov
Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid at a cabinet meeting in the Knesset, in December.
Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid at a cabinet meeting in the Knesset, in December.Credit: Emil Salman
Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov

Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman have agreed to take a number of economic measures that will affect the ultra-Orthodox community in the national budget, in an attempt to drive Haredi lawmakers to support coalition legislation in return for overturning those measures, as the coalition no longer has a Knesset majority.

The two ministers plan to introduce the cuts in the annual budget presented to the cabinet in June as a show of their sincerity on the matter, and then to hold negotiations with Haredi lawmakers to cancel the measures ahead of the Knesset vote.

A few weeks ago, Lapid and Lieberman discussed the government's options, in light of the fact that the coalition has not effectively had a coalition majority since the resignation of Yamina MK Idit Silman. This makes passing laws particularly difficult.

Therefore, the two have decided on a move that aims to “break the deadlock” and try to bring some stability to the fragile coalition. Their planned budget cuts include canceling Haredi daycare subsidies, including an employment ability clause as a condition for government stipends and slashing yeshiva budgets.

The two ministers intend to make their offers to individual lawmakers from Shas and United Torah Judaism, who are viewed as more independent than their fellow party members. Senior figures within the coalition believe that they will likely be able to lure these lawmakers, because they will be able to depict the elimination of the “evil decrees” to their voters as an achievement. However, they believe that the chances of drawing support from Shas members are low.

Whether this threat will work is uncertain, as it is not yet clear whether the coalition will be able to pass their budget in the Knesset at all. In order to do so, the government will have to rely on the abstention of at least one opposition lawmaker, whether that be Silman, who would not want to risk being designated a "deserter" and suffering the consequences, or a Knesset member from the Joint List.

In order for Lapid and Lieberman's plan to work, they will need broad support from the coalition as well. Yamina MK Nir Orbach has recently vehemently opposed Lieberman's initiative to cancel Haredi daycare subsidies, and had even managed to overturn it after Silman's departure. Chances that he will back a budget that includes budget cuts that will harm the Haredim are slim. Even so, members of the coalition hope they will manage to convince him, considering that the plan is a political one intended to garner support for the coalition, rather than one that will cause genuine harm to the ultra-Orthodox. Orbach has yet to express his opinion on the matter.

The coalition has been encouraged by the tension that has developed in the past few days between Likud and the ultra-Orthodox parties. The sides have had disagreements lately on legislation to award academic scholarships to discharged soldiers, as well as over more trivial laws like Likud MK Gila Gamliel’s proposal to reduce the use of disposable plastic bags. Thus far, the Haredi lawmakers have refrained from making deals with the coalition in return for advancing laws that are important to them, and now the coalition is hoping that they will not hesitate to negotiate after Likud lawmakers have done so themselves to advance their own political needs.

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