"Twenty thousand families and some 100,000 children could be
added to the cycle of poverty. Children's allowances will
lose 21 percent to 37 percent of their purchasing power,"
warned Bituach Leumi Director-General Professor Yochanan
Shtesman during a meeting of the special Knesset committee
preparing the budget-cuts program in advance of second and
third readings. Meanwhile, Labor abruptly reversed its
position and rescinded support for differential cuts for
those who had and had not served in the army, citing a party
commitment taken over five years ago not to allow
differential considerations from the State.
Shtesman noted that not updating allowances linked to the
average national wage--and instead imposing a 4 percent cut
of all Bituach Leumi allowances and a 24 percent cut for
children's allowances to parents who did not serve in the IDF
-- will lead to a NIS 2.3-2.4 billion ($500 million)
reduction in allowances in 2002 and NIS 5-5.2 billion ($1
billion) in 2003. The brunt of the budget cuts would fall on
the bottom 40 percentile, which he says will bear 60 percent
of the reduction.
The special committee, headed by MK Shiri Weitzman (Labor),
began deliberations earlier this week on the various articles
of the budget-slashing plan. Finance Minister Silvan Shalom
is pressuring the committee to complete the plan this week
for second and third readings in order to ready it for final
approval in a Knesset plenum at the beginning of next week,
but Knesset sources say there is no certainty the plan will
be approved this week and deliberations could extend until
the end of next week.
On Monday, the Knesset approved laws for including
mikvehs in new developments. Plans for the
establishment of mikvo'os are required in order to
receive a building permit for religious residential
developments, according to the new law, approved
Another law was approved that gives local authorities the
right to order the closure of bars and restaurants on Tisha
B'Av. The law was advanced after the Tel Aviv Municipality
ruled last year that the law only enabled the closure of
theaters and places of entertainment.
Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz called for a no-confidence vote on
the mikvo'os law, saying that it was a violation of
the status quo guaranteed under the coalition agreement. This
would have required a delay of more than a week.
However, Communications Minister MK Ruby Rivlin called for it
to be a confidence vote, meaning that it could be dealt with
immediately. The law was approved in a 31-22 vote. Several
Labor MKs voted against the law.
Rivlin said the original intention was to include
mikvehs, but a court had ruled that there is a
loophole in the law that does not include them among public
facilities and the matter should be rectified.
MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni said that steps should be taken against
those Labor MKs who voted against the government. Among those
who voted against the government is MK Shiri Weitzman, who is
now head of the special parliamentary committee to approve
the new budget law.
On Monday (24 Sivan) morning, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
informed UTJ's Knesset members that he wanted them to clarify
their position on the economic program within an hour. UTJ's
members were then told that if support the economic program,
the Prime Minister would return of Rabbi Avraham Ravitz and
of Rabbi Meir Porush to their positions as deputy ministers
that very day, along with the return to of Shas'
representatives to their respective positions. It was also
made clear that if the party did not support the economic
plan, Rabbi Litzman would be dismissed from his position as
the head of the Knesset Finance Committee.
At UTJ's subsequent meeting, its Knesset members raised
various possibilities for handling the situation, and the
position of the gedolei haTorah was presented.
Afterward it was decided not to respond to the Prime
Minister's ultimatum at that stage with a final answer, but
rather to continue to conduct negotiations on the issue.
When Labor's position against differentiation in the
Children's Allotments became known, UTJ's representatives
deferred their deliberations on the issue to see how things