Even after Israel's budget was passed by the Knesset, the extortions continued
Ministry of Religious Services budget increased by more than 100%
The budget for the construction and renovation of buildings for religious services will be increased by 50 million NIS (123%), the budget for the Ministry of Religious Services will be increased to nearly 150%, and the budget for cemeteries will be increase by 500%. The millions budgeted for the ultra-Orthodox parties by the Likud in exchange for their political support were merely a down payment - a base level for further increases.
Shahar Ilan 24/12/2015 17:04
Approved Increases to the 2015 Budget for Israel's Ministry of Religious Services
||Increases in %
|Support for religious services
|Construction and renovation of buildings for religious services
The Hurva Synagogue, The Old City of Jerusalem, courtesy: Wikipedia
On Sunday, December 20, the Knesset Finance Committee approved tremendous budget increases for the Ministry of Religious Services. Following the May elections we analyzed the coalition agreements and forewarned the anticipated budget hikes for Orthodox religious institutions, as extorted by the religious parties, in total disregard for public opinion. Now comes the political payoff, as the budgetary allocations are unfolding, exceeding even what was assumed at the time the coalition agreements were signed. And this is just the beginning…
In total, the 2015 budget for the Ministry of Religious Services was further increased from 511 to 823 million NIS, and the additional budget transfer of 312 million NIS amounts to 61% of the relevant State budget line passed by the Knesset just one month ago. Last year, the Ministry's budget was only 384 million NIS, and relative to that, the total 2015 increases amount to a tremendous 114%.
Everyone who thought that that ultra-Orthodox parties were done squeezing funds out of the State budget after it was passed was mistaken. As it turns out, the billions of shekels given to the ultra-Orthodox parties by the Likud in exchange for propping up the fragile 61 member coalition were only a down payment and baseline for further budget transfers.
Everyone who thought that that ultra-Orthodox parties were done squeezing funds out of the State budget after it was passed was mistaken. As it turns out, the billions of shekels given to the ultra-Orthodox parties by the Likud in exchange for propping up the fragile 61 member coalition were only a down payment and baseline for further budget transfers. The Ministry of Religious Service's budget was more than doubled within the span of a year. Evidently, the Shas party is more concerned about building synagogues and ritual baths than it is with assisting the underprivileged members of society and developing the economy. Are they assuming that the underprivileged class can satisfy its hunger by immersing in ritual baths?
The budget increases were explained as “necessary transfers to fulfil the Ministry's past obligations”. Among the sectoral increases was the budget for developing buildings for religious services, up from 120%, as passed this year by the Knesset, to nearly 150%. The development budget for cemeteries was also increased by more than 100 million NIS (close to 500%). Of course, cemeteries are needed by the general population, although almost all of them are administered by exclusively Orthodox standards.
The government claims that the additional budget increases were monies transferred in order to fulfill the Ministry of Religious Services' financial obligations in the 2015 budget. In simple terms, this means that the Ministry committed monies to outside bodies, which must be paid to them. However, in recent weeks numerous allegations arose from Members of Knesset that the Knesset Finance Committee had received many requests for fictional obligations, and the government had defined every budget that wasn't fully spent as "obligated funds" in order to transfer the monies from year to year. In the case of the Ministry of Religious Services, the situation is particularly difficult to understand because the ministry is claiming "obligated funds" that are significantly greater than the annual budget amounts for those very budget items.
And so, the Knesset Finance Committee, chaired by MK Moshe Gafi of United Torah Judaism, approved a budget increase to support the development and renovation of buildings for religious services, up from 40 to 90 million NIS, an increase of 50 million NIS (123%). This budget item is for synagogues and ritual baths, and is one of the slush funds used by the party controlling the Ministry of Religious Services to transfer monies to its supporters. The budget for "support for religious services" (which is undefined) was also increased from 51 to 125 million NIS, an increase of ~75 million (146%). The largest increase approved by the Knesset Finance Committee, far beyond the budget passed by the Knesset, was the budget for cemeteries, which was increased from 21 to 124 million NIS, an addition of 103 million NIS (almost 500%).