Shas-Likud Coalition Deal Includes Record Funding for Yeshivas, Boosts Child Allowances

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party signed a coalition agreement yesterday to join Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu's government. The agreement gives Shas four portfolios and allocates billions of shekels to yeshivas, while depriving Bedouin families of child allowances.

Party head Eli Yishai will become interior minister and deputy prime minister, MK Ariel Atias will become minister of housing and Meshulam Nahari will become a minister without portfolio in the Prime Minister's Office. Shas is considering MK Yaakov Margi as religious affairs minister instead of incumbent minister Yitzhak Cohen.

In addition, Shas will be in charge of the Israel Lands Administration, which Netanyahu previously vowed to keep in Likud's hands, and of the ultra-Orthodox education system.

The party's main achievement is securing money for its yeshivas and women's seminars, totaling NIS 975 million in each of the next two years, raising state funding for yeshivas by NIS 250 million. This is the highest sum ever to be paid yeshivas by the state.

Likud also agreed to pay Shas an additional NIS 1.4 billion for child allowances over the next three years, bringing the sum close to what it was before then-finance minister Netanyahu's 2003 cuts.

But one of the agreement's clauses will deprive Bedouin families and especially fanatic ultra-Orthodox families of their child allowances. It stipulates that parents whose children do not attend school regularly or receive Health Ministry-prescribed vaccinations will not receive child allowances.

The deal includes a sum of some NIS 130 million, which Shas will be able to use for any educational purpose it sees fit.

The coalition agreement also stipulates that the local authorities will be obliged, by legislation, to finance in full Shas and United Torah Judaism's schools.

NIS 50 million will be transferred to the Religious Affairs Ministry for constructing and renovating synagogues and mikvehs.

Any digs uncovering graves or human bones will be stopped immediately, the agreement says. The coalition agreement further stipulates that the local authorities will be obliged, by legislation, to finance in full Shas and United Torah Judaism's schools.

Shas demanded that Likud increase the rabbinical courts' jurisdiction to civil affairs as well, contrary to the High Court of Justice ruling of a few years ago. Kadima promised Shas in 2006 to expand the rabbinical courts' powers by legislation, despite the High Court ruling, but did not keep its word, due to public pressure.

Likud's negotiating team refused to make a similar commitment in the coalition agreement, which states only that the government will preserve the rabbinical courts' status and examine complaints that these courts are underprivileged compared to the civil court system.

Shas' spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef met Justice Minister-designate Yaakov Neeman before the coalition agreement was signed in a bid to reach a "quiet understanding" with Neeman to enact this legislation in the next government's term.