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Cabinet OKs 2023 budget changes but Knesset vote delayed

The 30.3 billion shekel ($8.2 billion) budget will see Israel through the end of the year.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sept. 27, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sept. 27, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

A vote in the Knesset plenum on Israel’s 2023 war budget, which had been planned for Monday, has been delayed until Tuesday or Wednesday in an effort to resolve growing opposition.

It signals the first fraying of a unity achieved among all major parties after the Oct. 7 attack to put other considerations aside for the good of the war effort.

The bone of contention is spending not directly related to the war included in the 30.3 billion shekel ($8.2 billion) budget, which is meant to see Israel through the end of the year.

Knesset members, both from the National Unity Party, which joined the unity government after Oct. 7, and lawmakers who remained outside the coalition, such as from Yesh Atid and Israel Beiteinu, have promised to fight the budget in parliament.

Voices have also been raised against the budget from within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s own Likud Party, including from Minister of Science and Technology Ofir Akunis, Minister of Economy Nir Barkat and backbenchers like MK Tali Gottlieb.

During Tuesday night’s meeting of Israel’s Cabinet, the disagreement bubbled to the surface. Following a turbulent debate, several former opposition lawmakers walked out in protest.

Minister-without-Portfolio Benny Gantz, leader of the National Unity Party, objected to the inclusion of discretionary coalition funding unrelated to the war.

Minister-without-Portfolio Yifat Shasha-Biton, also from the National Unity Party, said, “The entire budget should have been channeled to the fighting effort. What you brought here for approval smells like political dealing under the auspices of the war. [The budget] doesn’t contribute to anything, but on the contrary, only continues to damage the public trust.”

The Cabinet ultimately approved the budget, with Netanyahu saying it was “for the benefit of all war needs.” The budget must still pass three readings in the Knesset.

Netanyahu had earlier dismissed a warning from Gantz, who sent a letter to the prime minister on Monday saying that his party would vote against the budget if any coalition funds were included and that his faction would then “consider its next steps,” opening the possibility that he would leave the national unity government.

That possibility appeared to dissipate by Wednesday. According to reports, Gantz will stay in the government and fight the budget in parliament, hoping to enlist other coalition members to his side.

Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich, head of the Religious Zionism Party, sharply criticized Gantz for opposing the discretionary funding, which amounts to less than 900 million shekels ($245 million).

“He who doesn’t know how to compromise on a percent with his partners and respect their opinion, even if he thinks differently, doesn’t understand what unity is,” Smotrich said.

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