Religious Parties Have Billion-shekel Fee for Joining Coalition

UTJ, Shas demand NIS 200m increase in yeshiva budget after donations plummet in wake of global crisis.

Shas and United Torah Judaism are demanding that a Likud-led government increase funding for yeshivas by hundreds of millions of shekels a year as one of their conditions for joining the coalition.

A senior Shas official said the two Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties had presented coordinated positions in the coalition talks. He said that in light of the economic crisis, which has caused donations to yeshivas to plunge, the parties are demanding that the yeshiva budget "not fall below NIS 1 billion a year." In 2008, this budget stood at about NIS 800 million.

Shas officials also said that during the party's abortive coalition talks with Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni last fall, she offered them a NIS 300 million increase in the yeshiva budget. They will accept no less from Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, they said.

In addition, the parties are demanding that the entire sum be part of the regular budget, which would enable it to be carried over from year to year rather than having to be fought over each year anew. Currently, most government funding for yeshivas is listed as state assistance to nonprofit organizations.

"We don't want to have to waste the start of every year just in order to obtain the amount we got last year," said a Haredi activist who has been involved in the coalition talks. "We've had it with these games, and the coalition will stand or fall on this."

Finally, the parties want new rules written into the budget increasing yeshiva funding automatically if their student bodies grow.

Aside from the yeshiva funding, the two parties' main demand is a substantial increase in child allowances.