Last Monday’s session lasted about six and a half hours. The Budget and Arrangements Bills were the topics of the day. After the government presented the budget six opposition parties MKs objected to the bill and started a three-day-long filibuster.

Non-Bills Summary

  • Kadima’s no-confidence motion titled ‘Netanyahu government failure to reduce the gaps between the layers of Israeli society and its helplessness with regard to fighting poverty’ was defeated 32-58 with 30 MKs not present.
  • Meretz, Hadash, Ra’am-Ta’al and Balad’s joint no-confidence motion titled ‘The spread of racism in Israeli society’ was defeated 27-63 with 1 MK abstaining and 29 MKs not present.
  • Funds Committee Chairman MK Gafni (U.T.J.) explained his committee’s decision regarding the approval of provisions orders that will maintain the VAT at 16% instead of lowering it back to 15.5% as was originally intended. He then presented the committee’s second decision that the VAT for certain items will be raised to 16.5%. Gafni admitted that he was bringing these decisions against his own conscience. The first decision was approved 56-30. The second decision was approved 54-30.
  • House Committee Chairman MK Levin (Likud) announced his committee’s decision regarding transferring parts of the Arrangements Bill from the Labor Committee to the Funds Committee. The Knesset approved the measure by a vote of 52-9.

 

Bills Summary

2011-2012 Budget Bill and 2011-2012 Arrangements Bill

Funds Committee Chairman Gafni (U.T.J.) said that this was the smallest Arrangements Bill in Knesset history and therefore he supports this year’s Budget and Arrangements Bill. He noted that 14 bills were split off from the section of the Arrangements Bill that his committee discussed and were passed separately. He stated that the part of the bill that discussed local city councils was removed. He explained that there were many good sections of the Arrangements Bill, such as encouraging Israeli companies to stay in Israel and incentives for research and development companies. He summarized that this was a good Arrangements Bill and that it is much better coming out of the Funds Committee than it was going in. He praised the 350 million NIS that will be given to the firefighters. He slammed Kadima for attacking him. He blamed the press for determining the agenda of the State.

Finance Committee Chairman Shama (Likud) explained that his committee received four bills that were part of the Arrangements Bill and that two of them were split off and approved separately with support from the opposition. He explained that the two bills up for a vote now include prohibiting communication companies’ cancellation fees, prohibiting charging fees for calls between different communication companies, allowing more cell phone companies to enter the market, prohibiting communication companies from blocking their customers SIM cards, Skype or other applications, allowing the post office bank to expand and allowing further tenders to find more natural gas reserves. He thanked Communications Minister Kahlon (Likud) for ending the long celebration of the cell phone companies.

Labor, Welfare and Health Committee Chairman Haim Katz (Likud) explained that the bills attached to the Arrangements Bill discussed in his committee determine a ceiling for national insurance payments to ten times the average salary, allow pharmacists to write prescriptions and lower the pension of career soldiers.

Interior and Environmental Committee Chairman Azoulay (Shas) explained that his committee received a number bills that were part of the Arrangements Bill regarding the authority and responsibility of local council and city authorities, the transferring of funds from the federal government to the local councils and incentives to contractors for building small apartments.

Deputy Finance Minister Cohen (Shas) explained that the biannual budget was needed in order to meet coalition agreements with U.T.J., Y.B., J.H., Shas and Labor.

Justice, Constitution and Law Committee Chairman Rotem (Y.B.) explained that his committee received several bills that were part of the Arrangements Bill, mostly regarding raising taxes in order to lower the deficit. He stated that another bill would allow the government to take over an apartment building and provide financial compensation to its inhabitants if two-thirds of the apartments in the building agree to the offer.

Education, Culture and Sport Committee Chairman Miller (Y.B.) explained that his committee received several bills that were part of the Arrangements Bill and announced that first and second grade classrooms will be limited to no more than twenty children for at least twenty school hours per week, but that the class size would be a gradual drop. He stated that the budget for Jerusalem’s culture and higher education will also be raised.

MK Bar-On (Kadima) started the filibuster of the budget that would last for three days. Bar-On blasted the government for not having a single minister or MK in the plenum for his speech. Minister Herzog (Labor) showed up after a few minutes. Bar-On slammed the government for bringing a budget similar to last year’s and said that there are no changes of substance. He attacked the biannual budget and warned that the government was playing with fire. He remarked that the budget that is being spent on 30 ministers and nine deputy ministers is a waste and that most of them don’t even work. He called the ministers a bunch of “gabay’s”. He wondered why Minister Meridor is making an annual ten million NIS and why Minister Braverman’s ministry costs 28 million NIS annually. He wondered why Deputy Minister Kara needs five million NIS annually. He stated that if Netanyahu cancelled one ministry he would be able to save several programs that are currently being cut in order to shrink the deficit. He slammed Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Katz for putting their names and faces on every road that they repair. He suggested placing a sign where the Carmel forest used to be stating ‘here used to be a forest, didn’t stop the fire, signed Netanyahu’. He attacked the indirect taxes as well. He attacked Ministers Shalom, Braverman, Livnat, Barak and Simhon for moving their offices to Tel Aviv and asking the tax payers to pay for it. He warned that the government is dividing the nation by allowing the ultra-orthodox and the Israeli Arabs to determine their own education system. He warned that for the first time fewer than 50% of Israelis are studying in government or public schools. He noted that the budget awards university students 366 million NIS and yeshiva students 940 million NIS.

MK Yacimovich (Labor) recalled Netanyahu’s pledges on the television advertisements before last elections about how he would lower taxes. She noted that although she would make more money in such an arrangement, the country would have less money to spend on the necessities a country must pay for. She said that she was happy that Netanyahu was raising taxes instead of standing by his populist promise, but that he should be charging more taxes in order to eliminate the deficit completely and please our OECD friends. She noted that 50% of the public doesn’t even make the average wage and won’t have to pay for it, but that the middle class will have to pay for it because of the indirect taxes and that scares her. She said that the middle class is the backbone of society and most of the taxes should be on the rich. She said the indirect taxes on gas will hurt the middle class more than the rich. She disagreed that raising taxes on gas will encourage people to drive less or use more public transportation options. She called the tax a regressive tax as opposed to a progressive one. She criticized Netanyahu for giving gasoline tax exemptions to his friends’ factories and those who hired lobbyists. She also attacked the government for refusing to add more public housing.

MK Ilatov (Y.B.) was heckled by Bar-On, who called on Minister Herzog to resign. Ilatov stated that overall the budget is pretty balanced, and because it is for two years it ensures political and financial stability. He praised the incentives for high tech companies.

MK Vaknin (Shas) praised the 350 million NIS the budget allots for firefighters. He complained about his moshav, Yarah, which received approval for 240 housing units, but has only been able to break ground on 40 of them due to lack of funds. He wondered why his government can give twenty billion NIS in tax breaks to big companies but can’t spend two billion on housing.

MK Plesner (Kadima) blasted Minister Herzog for taking a five-minute bathroom break. Vaknin responded that even ministers have rights. Plesner responded that the coalition, with its automatic majority, doesn’t see a reason to sit and hear the MKs debate the budget. He blasted the government for not finding a solution to the housing shortage. He elaborated that the country is divided into two, those who own a home and those who are at the mercy of the home owners and the government. He wondered why Minister Ya’alon needs an annual ten million NIS budget for his ministry and why Minister Shalom needs two hundred million NIS per year for his ministry that includes over a hundred employees. He charged Netanyahu with buying his coalition partners with money. He asked why the yeshiva students were given priority over the 60,000 university students. He slammed the decision to give tax breaks to industries in Judea and Samaria. He blasted the ultra-orthodox MKs in the room who did not serve in the army and said that they are not Zionists. MK Zeev heckled back. Plesner summarized that this is an illegitimate government.

MK Ganaim (R.T.) said the budget discriminates against the Israeli Arab population and began a rant in Arabic in which he quoted from the Koran. He accused the government of bypassing the democratically elected legislative branch. He stated that even Minorities Minister Braverman’s budget has little to show for itself. He called the Jewish state illegitimate and attacked Israel for not allowing the right of return to the land’s rightful Arab owners and compensating them for the years that the Jews enjoyed their land. He questioned how Israel could be a part of the OECD. He slammed Israel for assisting the Jewish industries before they help the Arab industries, which only account for 2.4% of the industrial zoning in Israel.

MK Ariel (N.U.) asked those present what they thought about the circus show called Netanyahu-Lieberman. Minister Herzog confessed it was a sad circus. Ariel responded he finds the circus more funny than sad. He laughed at Herzog and said that the Labor party is trapped in the aquarium of the circus and has no power. He quoted the popular slogan ‘if I forget Jerusalem, forget my right hand’, and attacked Netanyahu for freezing construction in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, thereby raising real estate property prices State-wide. He noted last year in Jerusalem 3,500 building units were approved and this year only 350 were approved. He noted that in Judea and Samaria the number of approved units decreased from 5,000 to zero. He lectured that there have been no significant housing increases anywhere in the country, and when there is a shortage of 8,000 housing units per year the prices go up. He wondered why in the 348 billion NIS budget for this year and the 365 billion NIS budget for next year there is no room to solve the housing crisis or the illegal immigrant crisis. He stated that 3 billion NIS for a fence with Egypt is a good first step but is not the only step needed to fight the influx of illegal immigrants. He suggested cutting the 60 billion NIS defense budget by three billion NIS (a 5% reduction) and adding it to the education ministry. He concluded by asking the Knesset to stand behind Jonathan Pollard.

MK Barakeh (Hadash) said that there is no reason to shrink the deficit and presented the United States as an example of an economy that can bounce back with a large deficit. He attacked the two-year budget and said that an annual budget is more appropriate. He charged that there is a connection between the rich and the leaders of the country that is inappropriate. He blasted the defense budget as unnecessary and proof that Israel is an aggressor that conquered the land of the Arabs and is living in it unjustly. He also attacked the tax increase. He concluded that the budget looks like a demagogic cliché aimed against the Arab public.

MK Molla (Kadima) attacked the government for over twenty minutes for the way they handled the Carmel fire and got into arguments with the Shas MKs in the room. He attacked Minister Peled, whose office’s budget stands at two and a half million NIS annually. He concluded by labeling the budget one that will increase poverty in Israel by raising taxes and not solving the housing crisis. He warned that the OECD might kick us out of their club.

Several coalition MKs attacked Deputy Speaker Whbee (Kadima) for not closing the session at 22:00 as agreed, and allowing MK Molla to speak seventeen minutes over his time. The session closed at 22:17 PM and would reopen the next day at 09:00 AM, which would give the MKs a ten and a half hour break to get some sleep.

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