The government on Monday approved cuts
in the state's budget in a 20:9 vote. "This is a responsible step that will protect Israel's economy and the citizens' workplaces," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
said after the vote. "Even after this plan, the lower and middle classes are left with more money in their pockets."
faction opposed the plan, protesting the failure to grant the demands of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry. Shas and Welfare Minister Moshe Kahlon also voted against the move.
A statement on behalf of Barak said, "At a time of a growing global recession, the government's job is to prevent the collapse of society and economy. These are hardworking people with small and medium-sized businesses who carry the state on their backs."
Netanyahu and Minister Kalon (Photo: Tal Shahar)
The vote sparked a row between Barak and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz
and the defense establishment is likely to suffer the consequences. Steinitz has decided to "punish" Barak for voting against the measures by increasing the cut to the defense budget.
The original plan saw the Defense Ministry suffering a small NIS 18 million cut, but now an additional NIS 100 million will be taken off the budget. Half of the NIS 100 million is set to fund the fortification of the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, while the other half will serve to reduce the cuts to the education budget.
The cut to the Education Ministry's budget will drop to 1%. Higher education budgets will lose NIS 15 million instead of NIS 35 million.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu told Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman he is working to find a solution that will allow the fortification of the Barzilai hospital.
Minister Kahlon, who demanded more funding for the elderly and the disabled, also voted against the cuts. "My heart wouldn't let me vote for this cut when I know there are people who earn NIS 2,100 and will have NIS 70 - which pay for chicken and vegetables - taken off."
He further added, "We need to help the lower classes, not hurt them."
Prior to the vote it was announced that the Public Security Ministry had reached an agreement with the Finance Ministry to mitigate the planned budget cut from NIS 181 million to just several tens of millions. Netanyahu was involved in the talks.
Barak and Netanyahu (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Netanyahu also promised Habayit Hayehudi
chairman Daniel Hershkowitz to draw up a plan to significantly reduce the price of national-religious education paid by parents and match its cost with that of secular education.
Steinitz said before the meeting, "These steps are unpleasant for me too as finance minister, but any sensible person can appreciate that we are doing this to protect Israel's economy."
The statement drew harsh criticism by Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich who said it showed "shallowness."
Meanwhile, the Kadima
faction obtained the necessary 25 signatures needed to convene a special plenum session on the economic measures next week while the Knesset is in recess.
Opposition Chairman Shaul Mofaz said, "The prime minister needs to ask himself how he drove Israel into an unprecedented budgetary hole and explain to the Israeli citizens why they are the ones paying the price."
Moran Azulay Avital Lahav and Omri Efraim contributed to this report