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Smotrich says won’t heed ‘populist’ call to halt interest-rate hikes

In a bid to curb inflation, the Israeli central bank hiked the country’s benchmark interest rate from 3.75% to 4.25%, the highest level since the 2008 global financial crisis.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaks to reporters at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, Jan. 11, 2023. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaks to reporters at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, Jan. 11, 2023. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said on Monday that he would not heed “populist” calls to prevent the Bank of Israel from further raising interest rates.

The Israeli central bank earlier on Monday hiked the country’s benchmark interest rate from 3.75% to 4.25%, the highest level since the 2008 global financial crisis. The bank has intermittently raised its benchmark rate from a record low of 0.1% last April in a bid to rein in inflation, which reached a 14-year high in January, jumping 5.4% over the previous year.

“The independence of Israel’s central bank is fundamental for our strong and innovative economy. As Finance Minister, I stand firmly against populist statements threatening the Bank of Israel’s independence,” tweeted Smotrich.

“As a government, we will deliver a budget that invests heavily in infrastructure for economic growth, as well as a package of assistance for those truly in need,” he added.

Smotrich’s comments came after Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen tweeted that he had asked the finance minister “to draw up an outline with the Bank of Israel governor to stop interest rate increases. Against the background of moderate inflation, there was no justification for raising the interest rate today, which continues to abuse mortgage holders.”

Likud lawmaker David Bitan, who is chair of the Knesset’s Economic Affairs Committee, had also called for halting interest rate hikes, “even if this will prolong the lowering of inflation. The cost of living is skyrocketing. We may beat inflation, but the victims will be the citizens of Israel,” he said.

Smotrich presented the draft 2023-2024 state budget to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week. The budget must be approved by the Knesset by May 28 or else the government automatically falls and an early election is held.

Israel’s GDP increased by 6.5% in 2022. The high rate follows an even greater 8.6% GDP growth in 2021, and comes after a 1.9% contraction in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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