FinMin's budget firmly rejected by majority of MKs

Shas: Budget will spark social rebellion
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With Moti Bassok

The 2003 budget proposal that Finance Minister Silvan Shalom presented Friday cannot gain a majority in parliament.

A big majority of Knesset members reject the budget plan, which includes deep cuts in defense spending. Over the weekend, 13 Knesset factions and at least 79 MKs expressed their opposition to the plan. Its opponents include three key coalition parties: Labor, Shas and Yisrael b'Aliyah.

The National Religious Party has also expressed specific objections, as did certain members of the Likud.

Shas leader Eli Yishai told Israel Radio Sunday that if the planned 2003 budget cuts pass then there "will be a social rebellion in Israel the likes of which have never been seen before."

Labor sources said Saturday that if the budget was not revised, the party may withdraw from the coalition. The plan created social inequality and closed the lid on hope, Labor leader and Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said on Friday. "The plan targets the unemployed and the weak, and hinders Israel's security, which is key to an economic rebound... Instead, priorities should be changed. Funds for settlements and the ultra-Orthodox sector should be cut, and investments should be made in infrastructure in order to generate employment and growth," Ben-Eliezer said.

The NIS 3 billion cut that the treasury seeks in the defense budget was unrealistic, he said, adding that the education budget should not be cut, but expanded.

At the same time, Labor whip MK Effi Oshaya expressed his regret that his colleagues "once again issue rash statements to the press before they have studied the details of the budget and before the party has adopted any decision on the matter." Oshaya said that it was most peculiar that a minister could attack the budget on the one hand, but insist on staying in the government at the same time.

Labor ministers will convene Sunday evening to discuss the proposed budget and present a united front in the government budget session on Tuesday. Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon said he would boycott the meeting and expressed hope that other Labor ministers would do the same. Culture, Sports and Science Minister Matan Vilnai said that the plan to cut 10% of his ministry's budget spelled a death blow to the sector, which is already in dire straits.

Endorsing the recommendation of Labor Secretary-General MK Ophir Pines-Paz, the party agreed that the convention on September 5 would adopt an alternative budget. If this indeed happens, party discipline will require all Labor ministers to vote accordingly, although there have been instances in the past when Labor ministers have gone against the official party line.

Opposition leader MK Yossi Sarid and MK Ran Cohen (Meretz) said that their party would be presenting an alternative budget to what they dubbed Sharon and Shalom's "butcher-budget." There would soon be no choice but to send the victims of the duo's policy to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas or settlements, for only there would they be protected against this malicious government and its decrees, the Meretz lawmakers said.

Meretz MKs will be holding a meeting Sunday to discuss the proposed budget plan.

Shas chairman and Interior Minister Eli Yishai said that the budget cuts were tantamount to a declaration of war on the unemployed and on anyone who required national insurance benefits to survive.

Coalition leader MK Ze'ev Boim (Likud)said that the cut in the education budget was unlikely to win support. A somewhat different voice was sounded by MK Avraham Poraz (Shinui).Although Shinui is an opposition party, it may support the budget if it cuts the funds for the ultra-Orthodox sector and for settlements, he said.