Knesset Panel Approves NIS 3.8b in Military Spending in Stormy Session

Labor MK Stav Shaffir ejected from Finance Committee meeting after accusing chairman Nissan Slomiansky of withholding information

Oliver Fitoussi

In a stormy debate that saw Labor lawmaker Stav Shaffir ejected, the Knesset Finance Committee on Tuesday approved transferring 3.8 billion shekels ($1.1 billion) to the military budget. The amount approved included just over a billion shekels as a budget supplement requested by the Finance Ministry, along with a 2.27 billion-shekel authorization in connection with future obligations as well as 680 million shekels contingent on the army earning income that offsets it.

But before MKs got to vote, committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi) ordered Shaffir ejected from the committee room after she insisted on an explanation for some 125 million shekels in cuts to the public transportation budget. A Finance Ministry official had told the committee that the amount being diverted from the budget was savings resulting from deferred projects.

Shaffir, however, claimed that the 125 million shekels represented 14.5% of the entire public transportation budget. When she persisted in making an issue of the matter, Slomiansky told her to leave the session, to which she replied, “Remove me yourself. Do you want me to stand in the corner?”

Slomiansky suggested that she step out of the room for five minutes and then return. After United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni implored her not to leave, she was physically removed. Ultimately the transfer of the billion shekels to the defense budget passed in committee by a vote of eight in favor and five against.

After returning to the committee room, Shaffir accused Slomiansky of knowingly keeping information from the public and, as she put it, “trading in our tax funds for the benefit of political deals, preferring to remove the opposition from the session so there won’t be anyone to tell the public the truth.”

She accused Slomiansky of repeatedly lying to the public and questioned what he had gotten in return for allowing passage in committee of Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s program to exempt many first-time buyers of new homes from the 18% value-added tax, legislation that has yet to be ratified by the Knesset plenum.

Opposition MK Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) replied that Slomiansky and his Habayit Hayehudi party, which has a base of support among national religious voters who live in West Bank settlements, “got 20 million shekels for local governments [in settlements] in the territories and will get another 20 million shekels when the goods are delivered, meaning after the passage of the zero-VAT law.”

At one point in the session, Shaffir accused Slomiansky of ignoring the residents of the south of Israel, who have borne the brunt of Hamas rocket attacks during Operation Protective Edge.“You call yourselves Zionists? All that you’re interested in is what happens in the territories,” she said.

Slomiansky said Shaffir was lying and “had gone totally mad.”