In their negotiations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the formation of his coalition government, Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid put up a united front. Now though, Bennett’s party − whose core constituency is the religious-Zionist electorate, as opposed to ultra-Orthodox voters − is seeking to limit the size of government-spending cuts on the Haredi community.
This includes efforts to limit cuts to yeshivas and tax breaks on municipal taxes (arnona), and reduced preschool tuition fees that some members of the ultra-Orthodox community have benefited from. The Haredi community has a low workforce-participation rate, particularly among men − who engage in Torah study instead − and some of these benefits could be endangered by plans to require employment by both husband and wife.
The government currently provides about NIS 1 billion a year to yeshivas, and the Finance Ministry − led by Lapid − is proposing that this be cut by NIS 340 million. The ministry has also proposed cutting state support to smaller yeshivas and ultra-Orthodox teacher-training institutions for women by half.
Habayit Hayehudi came in for major criticism when agreeing to Lapid’s demand that the Haredi parties be excluded from the current coalition.
The party has now established a team − headed by Knesset faction chairwoman Ayelet Shaked, joined, among others, by Deputy Education Minister Avi Wortzman − to examine the subject. The Habayit Hayehudi team has been holding consultations with representatives of United Torah Judaism and Shas, two Haredi parties that have been in the opposition since the election.
Shaked confirmed yesterday that the team has been convened and is at work, but declined to provide details. Habayit Hayehudi has also approached coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud) over a possible reduction of cuts affecting the Haredim.
“I strongly object to cutting NIS 340 million [to the yeshivas], and think disproportionate cuts to the yeshiva budgets should not be carried out,” said Wortzman, whose duties as deputy education minister include responsibility for government funding for yeshivas.