Far-Right Govt’ Passes Controversial Pro-Settler Budget

The far-right Israeli government has passed in the early hours of Wednesday a new two-year budget that solidifies the ruling coalition’s religious, pro-settlement agenda, as thousands of protesters demonstrated against the spending package outside the parliament building. The 2023 and 2024 budgets passed with a 64-56 vote – stalled by debates overnight and following weeks of negotiations. The budgets stand at 484 billion shekels ($131bn) for this year and 514 billion shekels ($139bn) for next year, according to a parliament statement after the vote. Tens of millions of dollars have been set aside in last minute for extreme pro-settler parties.

Students’ demonstration against the budget near the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 14, 2023 (Photo: National Union of Israeli Student)

On Monday, a major obstacle in passing the budget was settled, with a promise of $68m made to the racist party Otzma Yehudit for its settler developments in the Negev and the Galilee regions and the Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich, a settler, has said he hopes to double the number of occupied West Bank settlers in the near future.

Settlements will receive funds from the newly-created “Arnona Fund”, a mechanism in this year’s budget that aims to distribute municipal taxes, and which settlements will not have to pay into, Amnon Bronfeld, the spokesperson for communist Knesset member Ofer Cassif (Hadash), told Al Jazeera.

“The explanation is even more infuriating,” Bronfeld said. “Justice department prohibited allocating funds from the settlements as it contradicts [international] law, but allowed allocating funds to them even though it is also prohibited.” He added that settlements will also see increased budgets in a number of areas, including roads and infrastructure, tourism and agriculture.

The budget will also increase funds for ultraorthodox men to study full-time in religious seminaries, forgoing the requirement of working or serving in the military, which secular males are obligated to do. Ultraorthodox schools will also receive more money. The budgets for 2023 and 2024 include at least NIS 5.9 billion ($1.6 billion) in discretionary earmarks for the ultra-Orthodox community that had been demanded by coalition partners but which are largely unpopular with the general public.

Tuesday night’s demonstrations against the budget took place near the Knesset after months of mass protests against Netanyahu’s proposed amendment of the country’s judicial system, with people accusing the government of looting state funds. Drum-beating protesters, bearing Israeli flags, marched through Jerusalem to parliament as voting got underway Tuesday night. During last weeks, students and pensioners also demonstrated against the budget near the Knesset.

Leaders of the anti-government protest movement said in response to the passing of the budget that “After looting citizen’s tax money and bribing his coalition partners, Netanyahu is admitting his plot to continue dragging Israel toward a dangerous messianic dictatorship. Israel is in great danger” and it is “mandatory to resist.”

According Israeli press, Netanyahu will restart the push to radically change Israel’s judiciary after his government successfully passed the state budget, an important component of the overhaul. In an interview with Channel 14, Netanyahu said “of course” when asked whether the judicial overhaul, which was put on hold earlier this year amid unprecedented public opposition, would resume.

In addition, fascist lawmakers from Netanyahu’s coalition are pushing forward with a set of contentious bills which would advance the annexation of the West Bank and jeopardize academic freedom at Israeli universities. The Israeli Ministerial Committee for Legislation is set to debate on Sunday a bill that aims to restrict the ability of Israeli human rights organizations to accept donations from foreign governments.