The Knesset passed late Monday night the 2013-14 State Budget Bill in its first reading, with 58 legislators voting in favor of the budget while 44 were opposed.
The accompanying Economic Arrangements Bill also passed its first reading.
The budget proposal for 2013-14 was described by Finance Minister Yair Lapid as aimed at closing the socio-economic gaps plaguing Israeli society.
"At the heart of the budget submitted before you today stands a vision of the working man," Lapid told the Knesset plenum. "This comes through in the emphasis on the study of core subjects in all educational institutions bankrolled by the state. This comes through in the establishment of qualification centers that will help increase the participation in the job market. It is seen in the food and transportation reforms."
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Lapid said that "the individual's ability to provide for himself became the chief criterion in decision making, as seen in the property tax decrease and the funding of daycare centers for children. This creates a foundation that's labor-friendly." The minister's announcement was greeted with derisive cat-calls from the opposition benches.
Saying the MKs received the full version of the law a week ago, Lapid said that whoever went into the trouble of reading it earnestly rather than merely seeking for points to criticize should discern "the budget takes a problem – the big cut – and turns it into an opportunity. It is aimed toward minimizing the gaps between social strata, increasing the participation of citizens in the job market, equal distribution of the burden and letting go of the culture of welfare and introducing a culture of labor."
Yair Lapid adressing Knesset Plenum (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Lapid further added the problems the budget targets include red tape, housing prices, excessive centralization of the markets. These issues, he said, should be looked into in order that Israel become a more productive society.
Labor MK Micky Rosenthal called at Lapid to "stop reading out from the page. How about the 90,000 people who live in poverty according to the National Insurance Institute report?"
Yet Lapid stressed that he has his eyes on only on a "fair" society but one that's "entrepreneur-friendly, a society that does not abide by the populist winds blowing on the streets, and so often within the walls of this institution. We want successful businessmen in our land, we want entrepreneurs, we want that large business corporations will come here and open branches, we want successful people who earn a lot, and these people should not be persecuted by envy and lack of support."
This latter trend, Lapid said, was the scourge of the Israeli market, and he was determined to put an end to it.
Lapid rejected criticism from opposition members saying "We added NIS 9.1 billion ($2.52B) to the education budget and made sure that every child in Israel study the core subjects. Some NIS 3 billion ($830 million) were added to the health budget; we set NIS 500 million ($139M) to care and nursing services for Holocaust survivors and another NIS 500 million to the intergration of haredim in the job market."
"We haven't touched the pensions, we haven't touched the subsidies of the disabled. Those belonging to the weakened classes are not invisible to us," he said. "We must take care of them as it is our duty. But what the weakened classes need most is a strong State running on a strong economy."
Immediately after Lapid, Opposition Chair Shelly Yachimovich took to the podium, lashing out at the minister. "Don't you buy into these theatrics. It is but a show to the cameras, supported by naught."
"Just imagine, Yair Lapid, "that in one of your pre-election shows of false promises I would accost you and whisper in your ear, in a friendly fashion, that this is what you'll ultimately do. Would you even believe me?"
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