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Charedi fury over Knesset's plan to make cuts

    Strictly Orthodox demonstrators in Jerusalem last year protesting against universal conscription (Photo: Getty images)
    Strictly Orthodox demonstrators in Jerusalem last year protesting against universal conscription (Photo: Getty images)

    The 2013 state budget belatedly brought to the Knesset by Finance Minister Yair Lapid included, as expected, deep cuts in social spending and a tax rise.

    According to Treasury officials, both are needed to shrink a deficit of NIS 34 billion (£6bn), but the most eye-catching details so far have been the cuts in funding for Charedi education.

    Among the measures are new rules whereby independent Charedi schools will continue to receive state funding only if at least 55 per cent of their studies are based on the national curriculum.

    In the past, the Charedi parties have managed to block demands by the Education Ministry that their schools teach the “core subjects”, which include mathematics, science, English and Hebrew grammar. Now, Shas and United Torah Judaism are no longer in the coalition and do not have the political clout to block the measures.

    In addition, the budget does not allow yeshivah students over the age of 22 to receive subsidies for sending their children to nursery, or get reduced municipal rates, unless both parents are working.

    Another cut in the new budget which Charedi politicians say targets their community is the reduction in child benefits. These will now be paid at a fixed rate per child whatever the size of the family, while in the past parents received larger sums for every new child.

    Charedi politicians reacted angrily. Shas MK Nissim Zeev called the finance minister “delusional”.

    “Lapid won’t change the Charedi community or educate it,” he said. “He doesn’t own this country and his policy is leading to total dictatorship. Who is he to tell people how many children to have?”

    The budget compounds Charedi antipathy towards the new coalition, whose founding agreement includes a universal draft.

    The strictly-Orthodox parliamentarians heckled the new minister during his maiden speech, but Mr Lapid was also in a fighting mood, and answered them: “You were in every coalition for 30 years and you are no longer in government because the public is fed up with taking orders.”

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