Avigdor Liberman, head of the opposition party Yisrael Beiteinu, launched a scathing attack on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a weekend interview, insisting that the Israeli leader “deserves to suffer in hell.”
Liberman’s fury is related to the upcoming state budget, which Netanyahu needs to pass by the end of the month, or the Knesset will automatically dissolve.
In order to meet the deadline, Netanyahu is quickly working to meet coalition agreements by pumping public funds into the coffers of his coalition partners. Aware of the prime minister’s tenuous position, some ultra-Orthodox lawmakers have made additional financial demands.
Among those demands is that Netanyahu hand over to the ultra-Orthodox school system hundreds of millions of shekels, while dropping the condition that those schools begin to teach core curriculum subjects.
And that’s what has Liberman so hot and bothered.
When he was finance minister in the last government, Liberman noted that he “gave a lot of money to get core curriculum studies” into Orthodox schools. The ultra-Orthodox school system, despite receiving state funding like other public schools, are free to teach an alternative curriculum that focuses heavily on Bible and Jewish religious texts, often at the expense of subjects like math, the sciences and history.
“What Netanyahu did, and for that he deserves to suffer in hell every day, is he took those people and said: ‘I will give you the same funds without the need to study core studies. I want you to remain in poverty, without education, and you will suffer,'” explained Liberman.
Like many secular Israelis, Liberman believes the ultra-Orthodox have become a drain on Israeli society. Ultra-Orthodox men are able to gain exemption from mandatory military service by signing up for seminary (yeshiva) studies, after which they often forgo traditional employment for further religious studies, resulting in high poverty levels and strain on social services.
Liberman and like-minded secular Israelis say that situation won’t change until the ultra-Orthodox receive a more well-rounded education.
“The fact that Netanyahu has prevented Israeli children from studying core studies is intolerable, unacceptable and unforgivable,” he concluded.
At least one ultra-Orthodox party is threatening to leave the coalition and vote against the budget if it does not receive an extra 600 million shekels ($165 million) in state funding.
Finance Minister Bezelel Smotrich reportedly counter-threatened to step down if Netanyahu gave in to the ultra-Orthodox demands. Smotrich later denied issuing such a threat, but is entirely opposed to meeting the demands.
(This back-and-forth further highlights the conflict between religious nationalists and ultra-Orthodox politicians, which sit together in Netanyahu’s government.)
Media reports indicate that Netanyahu and Smotrich are planning to simply ignore the Orthodox demands for extra funding, confident that even without their votes the budget will pass.
If the state budget is not passed by May 29, the Knesset automatically dissolves and Israel goes to a snap national election.
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