Knesset Panel OKs NIS 2.1b for Defense, Cutting Other Ministries' Budgets

Funds diverted from budgets allocated for education, Holocaust survivors.

Emil Salman

Just before the Knesset votes to dissolve itself and call new elections, the Finance Committee approved an additional 2.1 billion shekels ($530 million) for defense. The MKs form the coalition voted in favor, as did two Haredi MKs: Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) and Yitzhak Cohen (Shas).

The discussion was quite lively. In addition to across-the-board cuts in various ministries in favor of the defense budget, the committee was asked to quickly approve on Monday morning a budgetary transfer of 106 million shekels ($26.7 million) to the World Zionist Organization's settlement division, as well as another 80 million shekels to the settlements themselves. Last Wednesday, the Finance Ministry asked to transfer another 20 million shekels to the WZO settlement division.

Yesh Atid officials called the attempt to pass the allocation “election bribery,” and having been conducted in the “dark of night.”

MK Stav Shafir was removed from the committee room four times, after requesting explanations and details of the transfers to defense. .

The money for defense came from unused funds in the following items in this year’s budget:

- 250 million shekels from “pensions and compensation.”

- 350 million shekels from subsidies for public transportation.

- 550 million shekels from the Economy Ministry, including: 311 million shekels from day care centers; 77 million shekels from encouraging employment in the Arab sector; 60 million shekels from encouraging employment among residents of the periphery, new immigrants and older people; 70 million shekels from reserves for implementing the government’s policy of encouraging employment; and 78 million shekels from funds related to the Demobilized Soldiers Law.

- An internal transfer within the section of transportation development: 1.2 billion shekels will be taken from “heavy rail trains” but almost the entire amount will be spent on “public transportation and mass transit.”

- 530 million shekels from intercity roads.

- 200 million shekels from education.

- 54 million shekels from welfare spending.

- 41 million shekels from funds for Holocaust survivors.

MK Boaz Toporovsky (Yeh Atid) asked the Knesset legal advisor Eyal Yinon in a letter for clarifications as to the legality of the transfers. Toporovsky complained the MKs on the committee were only given the information on the transfers two hours before the meeting. He accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also the acting Finance Minister, of using the treasury as his own private cash box.