Budget cuts across all ministries have been controversially approved by the Israeli government. Heated exchanges took place between ministers during a debate on Sunday as the treasury attempted to slash NIS 22 billion ($5.9 billion) from ministries over the next 20 years.
Savings will fund extra pay for police officers and prison guards, Israeli communities on the Gaza Strip but also, divisively for some ministers, the Eurovision Song Contest next year.
The 64th edition of Eurovision is scheduled to take place in Tel Aviv following Israel’s victory in Lisbon earlier this year with the song “Toy” performed by Netta.
And the worst exchanges came whilst debating if the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation (IPBC) should fund the Eurovision extravaganza from an existing budget or if the Treasury should take on the NIS 150 million cost.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau’s Chief of Staff Yoav Horowitz labelled Finance Ministry Director General Shai Babad a “lying politician who is swindling us” whilst Babad accused Horowitz of attempting to make headlines, mislead the government and Prime Minister.
“This behaviour does not befit such a senior official in the public sector, it has no place here,” he said.
Speaking afterwards, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri confirmed that along with Ministers Miri Regev, Uri Ariel and other ministers, he opposed additional funds for the broadcasting organisation to produce Eurovision though not just financial reasons.
“I opposed it because of the expected mass desecration of the Shabbat, while other ministers opposed it because they believe the IPBC needs to fund the Eurovision’s production out of its large budget, without receiving additional funds,” he commented.
Netanyahu, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon eventually met with Treasury officials during a recess.
Shortly after discussions, the government approved a 1.3 percent cut from each ministry’s budget but there was criticism in various quarters.
“The Cabinet approved two important decisions,” commented Netanyahu.
“The first remedies the lack of tenure and employment security for those serving in the security establishment. This is good news for police officers, police retirees, the Prison Service, the Shin Bet and the Mossad.
“The second important decision is reserving a budgetary source for aid packages to Sderot and the communities in the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip, as I, as well as the finance and interior ministers, promised at our meeting with the regional council heads last Thursday (November 15).”
But Welfare Minister Haim Katz lamented that cuts in his ministry would affect a program to take families out poverty, while Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman warned cuts could destroy different areas of the Israeli health system.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan backed a move to raise salaries of police officers and prison guards though his ministry would take the biggest cuts.