The Another

    Israel passes controversial budget cementing autonomy for the ultra-Orthodox



    Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the Knesset, Tuesday, May 23, 2023.

    After a laborious overnight session on Wednesday, May 24, the ruling coalition in Israel passed a controversial annual budget intended to be part of the long term. It is the first that Netanyahu has managed to complete since 2019. The prime minister intends to turn the page on four unstable years during which he clung to power without a majority, involving chaotic management of public finances, and a fifth year in opposition. Not to mention the first four months of his return to office, in December 2022, which were taken up by his unfinished justice reform, which gave rise to the largest protest movement in the history of Israel.

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    Netanyahu was generous to his religious fundamentalist allies (32 seats out of 120 in the Knesset), although three of the parties threatened to vote against his budget. The leader of the opposition, centrist Yair Lapid, criticized “endless extortion.” He denounced the allocation of nearly €4 billion in discretionary funds to ministers from these factions over one year, intended for their communities. This includes representatives of the Religious Zionism party of Bezalel Smotrich, the finance minister who has promised to double the Jewish population of West Bank settlements to one million (not including East Jerusalem settlements).

    The main beneficiaries are the ultra-Orthodox, who are strengthening the bastions that isolate their community from the modern world, at the expense of the state. Substantial funding is allocated to their religious schools, the base of their power. The coalition refuses to demand that these schools teach secular subjects (mathematics or history), to which many ultra-Orthodox children do not have access. The Haredim (those who “fear” God) are also getting an increase in benefits for adult seminary students, which discourages them from joining the workforce. Only one out of two haredi men works. The rest pursue their religious studies for life.

    Warning from 200 economists

    These concessions are infuriating secular and liberal Israelis, who have been demonstrating since January against the government’s policies and are outraged by the unsustainable long-term “autonomy” of the Haredim, who represent 13% of the population. Growing faster than any other community, they and their religious Zionist allies could form the majority within 50 years. On May 19, television host Galit Gutman caused a stir when she said that “the ultra-Orthodox are sucking our blood.” On May 21, 200 economists warned the government that increased aid to Haredim will cause “significant and long-term damage to Israel’s economy and its future as a prosperous country.”

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