Where Is the Money? In Wartime Israel, It's Everywhere - Just Not in the South

Labor MK Stav Shaffir writes that only when the budget process is made transparent will the government stop catering to special interests.

Olivier Fitoussi

Every time you see Finance Minister Yair Lapid or Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Nissan Slomiansky touring the south for the cameras, it’s important to ask them, “Where is the money?”

The settlements received 20 million shekels ($5.7 million) for “social reinforcement,” while Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett’s religious councils got 69 million shekels. But there were zero shekels for Nahal Oz, zero for Ashkelon, zero for the entire south.

That’s how the government used our money during wartime.

When I asked that question last week, Slomiansky had me ejected from the Finance Committee meeting. That’s how people act when they aren’t able to answer one simple question: Was there or wasn’t there a deal to give money to the settlements in exchange for advancing Lapid’s bill to eliminate value-added tax on first–home purchases?

Since the fighting began, not one request to transfer funds to residents of the south has been submitted to the Finance Committee. For that, the committee chairman is responsible: He could have stopped the panel’s work until money was found for southern residents’ urgent needs: adding more municipal–security coordinators, providing psychological help to children, reinforcing schools against rockets and compensating students who lost their summer jobs.

Instead, a special grant of 5 million shekels to West Bank settlements, which the government approved after Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrah were murdered, was brought up for discussion in the committee with lightning speed and then was mysteriously quadrupled to 20 million. Finance Ministry officials admitted at the meeting that the money wasn’t meant for security purposes — for that, an additional 12.5 million shekels was approved — but for youth activities. Southern communities can only dream about getting bonuses like that.

Politicians on the right have forgotten the primary mission — the State of Israel — in their messianic obsession with hilltops in the West Bank. Just as they will do anything they can to prevent a diplomatic agreement, thereby forfeiting the security of millions of Israelis, to avoid having to give up Hebron, they have been preventing investment in the Galilee and the Negev to steal this money for settlements like Elkana and Beit El.

But Slomiansky is just a small cog who knows how to make use of a broken system. The system by which budgetary changes are made enables the government to conceal its priority list, and over the years, it has become a channel for political extortion such as the deals over the zero-VAT law.

That is why I filed a petition against it with the High Court of Justice, and that is why it ordered the Treasury to draft new procedures, in consultation with me, within 90 days. When this battle ends and the budget becomes a model of transparency, we will cease to see special-interest groups getting more at the expense of the rest of us, even if they are best friends with the cat that guards the cream.

The author is a member of Knesset from the Labor Party.