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Israel's social justice dream 'laid to rest'?

    The Knesset this week authorised additional funding for the Defence Ministry in Israel's state budget.

    The decision to reverse plans to cut military spending calls into question the implementation of the recommendations of the Trachtenberg Commission, which advised increased spending on social programmes.

    The joint finance and defence sub-committee voted in favour of the government's request to add $1.65 billion shekels (£280 million) to the defence budget. This followed a series of discussions in which the high command of the IDF, backed up by Defence Minister Ehud Barak, claimed that the army needed the funds to counter a renewal of security threats on the Egyptian border.

    The motion passed despite strong criticism from the committee chairman, former IDF chief of staff and defence minister, MK Shaul Mofaz, now one of the leaders of the Kadima opposition party.

    Mr Mofaz said after the vote: "Today the Trachtenberg report has been laid to rest. The dream of social and distributional justice during this government's term has been finally buried. The coalition may have an automatic majority in the committee but it has no heart, no compassion and no vision."

    A senior IDF general, speaking on condition of anonymity, justified the boost to the defence budget, saying: "The army is not opposed to social reform, it is the largest middle-class institution in the country, employing tens of thousands of citizens and committed to their welfare and the welfare of all Israelis. Cutting the budget during such a crucial period would erode the foundations of our national security - which allow us to go forward also on social issues."

    Meanwhile, on Sunday, Daphne Leef, the young protester who sparked off last summer's social justice protests that led to the Trachtenberg Commission, announced she would launch a new movement that would "create a non-parliamentarian infrastructure that will continue the struggle over the cost of living and the values of Israeli culture and democracy".

    The movement will form a non-profit company in which the public will be able to buy shares and which will act as a lobbying group for social affairs.

    Ms Leef, who lost much public support after she dismissed the Trachtenberg recommendations when they were released, said that she now accepted them and admitted "we have learnt a lot since the summer's protests and our new movement is part of a long-term strategy".

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