Knesset Speaker Admits He Failed to Prevent 'anti-Haredi’ Economic Decrees

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Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein says he has sought to curb the dimensions of the Economic Arrangements Bill that accompanies the new budget, both of which will be voted on in the Knesset on Monday. He urged that in future years the arrangements bill should only contain provisions directly related to the budget.

Monday’s vote on the first reading is the initial round of three votes on the budget and arrangements bill before it becomes law. The bills are expected to be altered, however, in committee before the final two votes.

In an interview with TheMarker, Edelstein, a Likud member who assumed his current post following January’s election, said he is planning on convening a team with representatives from parliament and the Finance Ministry to rein in the use of the arrangements bill in future years. The economic arrangements bill has been criticized in the past for including provisions not directly related to the budget and depriving unrelated provisions from getting separate legislative scrutiny.

In describing the give-and-take over the arrangements bill, Edelstein made special reference to Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s efforts to curb benefits to ultra-Orthodox citizens. Lapid has said this is necessary to encourage them to enter the workplace, but Edelstein initially opposed their inclusion, saying he wanted to remove them “because it is expected that the Knesset speaker will protect any population that is being attacked.”

He said that the Haredim were being “put upon” and the proposed provisions related to them should get separate consideration instead. Ultimately, he acknowledged, he relented in return for the exclusion of the Wisconsin plan − a welfare-to-work program for the unemployed.

“The preliminary draft of the arrangements bill that the Finance Ministry submitted to us was almost 200 pages long,” Edelstein said, adding that he convened a meeting where he vowed that he would not stand for the bill in its initial form “even if they accuse me of causing the collapse of the economy.”

When asked if the new Knesset members understood the budget, Edelstein replied that he was surprised by the seriousness with which they approached their work. “I have confidence in them but think it won’t be easy for them during the marathon Knesset committee sessions on the budget.”

With respect to the Knesset’s oversight of the defense budget, Edelstein said: “The Knesset needs to enhance its supervision of the budget [in general], including the defense budget, but the discussion of the various [defense budget] provisions cannot be public.”

Bowed to Lapid’s will

Edelstein said he and the staff of the Knesset’s legal adviser as well as Finance Minister Yair Lapid and his staff weeded out 48 sections of the arrangements bill, leaving 55 in place. “There were several major matters of disagreement. I demanded removing the Wisconsin program from the Economic Arrangements Bill,” Edelstein said, “and [Lapid] wanted to insert the provisions that would hit the ultra-Orthodox, such as the provision that would reduce funding for [religious] institutions that don’t teach core subjects [such as math, science and English], and the requirement that both spouses work to their potential to qualify for state benefits like reduced municipal taxes.” In the end, Edelstein said, after seeing how adamant Lapid was on the subject, he agreed to have the provisions related to the ultra-Orthodox community remain in the bill, but in return the Wisconsin plan was taken out.

Ultimately, he said, he also had to compromise on the inclusion of provisions that were not directly related to the budget but were important to the public interest. ‏(The pending bill includes reforms seeking to increase competition in the television and landline telephone service sectors and a reduction in the number of local water companies.‏)

Edelstein called the current Economic Arrangements Bill a “necessary evil.”

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, right, presenting Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein with the draft budget.Credit: Emil Salman

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