Kahlon: Kulanu Can Live With New NGO Funding Bill

In Knesset briefing, finance minister also denies contacts with Gideon Sa'ar, rejects idea of joint list with Likud, praises plan to allocate funds to Arab community.

Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon briefing reporters at the Knesset on Monday.
Lior Mizrahi

Finance Minister and Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon would be pleased if former Minister Gideon Sa’ar would join his party and run for a place on its slate in the next general election, but he stressed that “there have been no contacts between us – he’s a Likud man.”

Speaking to parliamentary reporters Monday in the Knesset, Kahlon referred to polls that speculated on the extent of their potential, joint electoral power as unfounded.

“Sa’ar is my friend, a leader who has something to contribute to the public," said Kahlon. If he wanted to run with us in Kulanu, we’d be happy. But I’m doing him an injustice by integrating him. It’s not fair He’s a Likud man – only a week ago he voted in the internal Likud elections. Even before I left Likud I was no longer voting [in its elections].”

On another subject, Kahlon told reporters that he supports the bill that would impose new regulations on NGOs funded primarily by foreign governments, which was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation last week. The bill demands that such organizations mention their foreign funding in all official publications, and that their representatives wear ID tags indicating receipt of such support in the Knesset and when meeting public servants.

“I’ll tell you the truth, I’m not dealing much with that,” Kahlon added. “I appointed [Kulanu MK Roy] Folkman to the committee [that drafted the bill]. The legislation started in a certain way and came back in a fashion we could live with, and we will support it.”

Kahlon declared unequivocally that he plans to run independently with Kulanu in the future, rejecting the option of a joint list with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud.

“I did not leave Likud just to go back to it,” he told reporters. “We have an excellent faction. Moreover, Kulanu has made a place for itself on the political map. Apparently a right-wing socioeconomic party with a 'traditional' orientation was missing.”

He refused to speculate about the future, however: “The drama always occurs at the 88th minute. Bibi [Netanyahu] reached Election Day with 21 mandates. The Arabs streamed to the polls but the mandates streamed to Netanyahu.”

The finance minister admitted that it is difficult for him to work in such a narrow coalition.

“I sweated plenty before the state budget was passed," Kahlon said. "I sweat before every bill [is voted on]. If I were to tell you that yesterday I didn’t speak with an opposition party about helping help me to pass ordinary legislation – I’d be lying. [Likud MK] Tzachi Hanegbi is abroad with no one offsetting him. Last week, for [Kulanu MK Yifat] Shasha-Biton’s bill [that would lower the minimum working age to 13, which the opposition blocked], Minister [Ofir] Akunis didn’t come up for the vote, and Oren Hazan [of Likud] did his own thing and didn’t vote. It’s not easy to function like this.”

The minister of the treasury would not, however, support early elections, he added: “The public will never forgive anyone who brings them to elections now. The budget has passed. There’s no reason to go to elections. Elections shut down the country for half a year to eight months. It’s no joke.”

In any case, there was no reason to expect an election to result in any great changes. “According to the polls, we’ll have the same situation,” he said.

Kahlon also addressed the criticism of him by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who has accused the treasury of not allocating the funds the city needs to balance the municipal budget.

“When there’s a dispute you come to the minister and make a decision, but they’re not prepared to sit with our professional teams,” Kahlon said, adding that he was prepared to give Jerusalem “everything it deserves. Let no one think that I have something against Jerusalem. I love Jerusalem, it’s our capital. I know what I want from him [Barkat]. I don’t know what he wants from me.”

Asked if Barkat was trying to pressure him by threatening to fire municipal workers, he said, “I’m not going to try to educate Nir Barkat. Apparently that’s the education he received.”

He also expressed satisfaction with the five-year, 15-billion-shekel ($3.85 billion) program approved last week by the cabinet for supporting the social and economic development of the country's Arab community, and praised Gila Gamliel, minister of senior citizen affairs, for pushing hard to pass it.

“There were great efforts to scuttle it, but I’m pleased that it passed in the end,” Kahlon said.