Bluffing or real threats? Coalition clashes ahead of budget deadline

“If the Likud wants to go to elections instead of giving a budget to the Negev and Galilee – go ahead,” Ben-Gvir warned Sunday.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Several political parties are threatening to refuse to vote for the state budget should their demands for additional funding not be fulfilled, which could potentially trigger the collapse of the government and a fresh round of elections for the Jewish state.

The ruling right-wing government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must pass a state budget by May 29th; otherwise, the current Knesset will automatically be dissolved.

The ultra-Orthodox Agudat Israel faction, Otzma Yehudit, and the Noam party are pressuring Netanyahu for additional funds, lest they refuse to vote for the budget and topple the government – much to the chagrin of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism).

Hebrew-language media widely reported that Smotrich himself has threatened to resign from the government should Netanyahu cave to the last-minute demands, though his office formally denied that version of events in a statement.

However, despite the frenzied reports on the tensions within the coalition, it’s unclear if the parties are blustering in order to make the most of the leverage they currently hold, or if there is a real likelihood that they will follow through on their threats and bring down the government should their financial demands be refused.

Despite the largest-ever funding allocated to the ultra-Orthodox parties and community, the Agudat Israel faction within the United Torah Judaism party is demanding that Netanyahu give an additional 600 million shekels ($164 million) to subsidize yeshiva students by the end of the day on Sunday.

If not, the faction, led by Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf, is threatening to vote against the budget and leave the coalition. The faction is encouraging the other faction in United Torah Judaism, Degel HaTorah, to support them in the move.

MK Rabbi Avi Maoz, who is the force behind the one-man Noam faction within Religious Zionism, has similarly threatened to oppose the budget and resign from the coalition should Netanyahu refuse to honor his coalition agreements, which would see millions of shekels in funding and the creation of a national Jewish Identity department.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and MKs from his Otzma Yehudit faction have publicly slammed the budget, saying that there is insufficient funding for residents of the peripheral Galilee and Negev regions.

For several days, Otzma Yehudit has been boycotting critical coalition votes due to their dissatisfaction with the budget. Netanyahu has met with Ben-Gvir several times in order to try to reach a compromise on the matter.

“If the Likud wants to go to elections instead of giving a budget to the Negev and Galilee – go ahead,” Ben-Gvir told Hebrew-language media in a statement on Sunday.

In a separate statement, a party spokesman added that “we don’t like to be tested when we stand up for our ideology. One of the main issues [of Otzma Yehudit’s platform] was strengthening personal security and governance in the Negev and Galilee…it can’t be that we secured a coalition agreement that budgeted 2 billion shekels ($549 billion)” and the allocation of the funds has not come to fruition.

“There are a thousand and one ways to solve the crisis without toppling the government,” the spokesman added.