Battle Over Israel's Budget Gets Biblical: 'By Passover, There'll Either Be a Budget or No Finance Minister'

Israel's coalition is in crisis over demands by the ultra-Orthodox, who show no signs of giving in: 'Then we'll have Passover without a finance minister'

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon attends a ceremony for the signing of a housing agreement in Netivot, Israel February 6, 2018

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is digging in and insisting that the 2019 state budget be approved by the end of March. On Tuesday morning he threatened that his centrist Kulanu party would leave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government coalition if the budget does not pass.

“The people of Israel will sit down for their Passover seder with a budget or without a finance minister,” Kahlon said, referring to the brewing coalition crisis over ultra-Orthodox demands for a new law on military draft exemptions that threatens to bring down the government.

“I am calling once again on my colleagues: Get your act together. If I see, and my colleagues from the Kulanu party [see], that by Passover the budget does not pass, I personally will recommend that we get up and leave the coalition,” Kahlon said at a conference.

Responding to the threat, Moshe Gafni, a leading lawmaker from the United Torah Judaism party, said: "Then it seems we will have Passover without a finance minister."

On Monday, Kahlon said he would no longer continue as finance minister if the budget does not pass the Knesset by next week, as scheduled. Reports of attempts to stave off early parliamentary elections due to the crisis quickly followed, but on Tuesday Kahlon repeated his threat.

“A big mistake was made by linking the budget with approval of the [ultra-Orthodox] draft law,” Kahlon told members of his Kulanu party. “There was a decision that it would pass during the [Knesset's] winter session and we are determined that this will happen. No one can promise me that in another month or two months the budget will pass.”

The government had planned to win Knesset approval for the state budget and for the supplementary omnibus Economic Arrangements Bill by the middle of next week, before the Knesset begins its Passover break on March 18.

“We will not be able to keep our agreement with the voters," Kahlon said on Monday. "I cannot see how I can continue to function as finance minister” if the budget is not approved on time.

Last week, when ultra-Orthodox lawmakers said they would condition the budget vote on the Knesset’s approval of two pieces of legislation that would exempt Haredi men from army service and circumvent a High Court order calling for draft equality.

Coalition members were entertaining several compromising proposals in light of this situation, among them a plan to put the draft legislation to a preliminary Knesset vote before the vote on the budget. The legislative process relating to the draft bill would then be completed during the Knesset’s summer session.