Israel parliament passes state budget despite protests

Israelis protest against their government proposal of national budget on May 23, 2023 in Jerusalem. (PHOTO / AFP)

JERUSALEM – Israel's lawmakers passed the 2023-2024 state budget on Wednesday despite protests over increased allocations to ultra-religious and pro-settler parties in the ruling coalition.

Thousands rallied in Jerusalem throughout Tuesday to protest against the budget plan, accusing the government of "looting" state funds to subsidize ultra-religious programs that yield limited benefits for the economy and the general population.

The budget passed in a final vote of 64 to 56 in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, after a series of marathon votes that were concluded early Wednesday, according to a parliament statement.

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The spending package includes 484 billion new shekels ($130 billion) for 2023 and 514 billion shekels for next year.

This is the worst and most destructive budget in the country's history.

Yair Lapid, Opposition leader, Israel

"We won the elections. We passed the budget. We'll continue for four more years," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on Twitter.

On Sunday, Netanyahu announced an agreement with United Torah Judaism, an ultra-Orthodox party and a key partner in the governing coalition, to secure the party's support in the budget votes. Under the deal, the state will allocate 250 million shekels to married seminary students in the form of stipends.

In another deal, Netanyahu agreed to allocate additional 250 million shekels to the Ministry of the Negev, Galilee and National Resilience, a ministry controlled by one of the pro-settler parties in the coalition.

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"This is the worst and most destructive budget in the country's history," Yair Lapid, the centrist leader of the opposition, said on Twitter, adding the budget "fails to address the cost of living, instead perpetuating endless extortion."

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the budget session at the parliament in Jerusalem on May 23, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)

Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving leader, returned to power in December 2022 at the helm of the most right-wing and religious coalition government in the country's history.

However, his comeback has been marred by fierce nationwide protests over his proposal to implement a judicial overhaul to undermine the powers of the Supreme Court.