Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich responded to Interior Minister Moshe Arbel's letter regarding the transfer of political grants to the Arab authorities in the amount of 200 million NIS. The source of the budget in question is from the previous government, which former Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked pledged to the chairman of the Ra'am party, Mansour Abbas.
Following the Finance Minister's decision to freeze a special grant that was promised to the Arab authorities in the previous government, the Interior Minister sent a letter to Smotrich. Arbel wrote that "these days, when the balance and development grant budgets are supposed to be distributed to the local authorities, I call on you to allow the release of the budgets for the Arab local authorities as well."
In response to this, the finance minister sent a letter stating that there are more urgent and important needs than continuing to transfer the political funds of the Ra'am party. "This is political coalition money given at the request of Ra'am and Mansour Abbas in the previous government and it has no professional justification."
The current government's policy is different from the previous one
Smotrich pointed out that the Arab authorities receive the grants they deserve like any other authority, and that there is no reason to give the Arabs grants that the Jewish authorities do not receive, "apart from a political demand by Abbas who wanted to make political capital on the state budget and bribe his voters in Arab society."
In contrast to Arbel's letter, Smotrich mentions that officials in the Ministry of Finance believe that this budget has no justification. "They opposed it in the previous government, and it was passed contrary to their position." "Currently, the policies and priorities of the current government differ from those of the previous government," says Smotrich.
"The state budget is a limited resource, and determining budgetary priorities reflects a world view of values and social considerations." Smotrich explains that the Ministry of Finance has signed a salary agreement with Ulpan teachers, in addition to the lack of funding for special education and finding budgets for security, boosting the economy, and more. "In my priorities, all of these are more important than continuing the political funds of the Ra'am party."
These funds harm the security of all of us
Another issue that Smotrich raises is the flow of money to criminal and terror organizations that have taken control of the tenders in Arab authorities. "There is no mechanism that bypasses these tenders, certainly in terms of the ongoing budgets of the authorities, such as this grant. Tenders that originate from the ongoing budgets of the authorities and are carried out by the authorities themselves often fall into the hands of criminal and terror elements, and these harm the personal security of all of us."
"The people of the Accountant General are in dialogue with the professionals in your office to find a solution for you, but so far we have not received cooperation and the mechanism has not been found to ensure the implementation of the current authorities' budgets for their purposes. I would appreciate your instructing the people in your office to cooperate with the professionals in my office to summarize the aforementioned control and supervision mechanisms."
A fundamentally flawed argument
At the conclusion of the letter, Smotrich addresses the claim that the Arab authorities built on this budget: "This is an unfounded argument from its inception. The local authorities approved their budget for 2023 before the end of 2022 - during the election period and the negotiations for forming the new government. During this period, there was no government and certainly no approved state budget that could be built upon."
"The authorities knew that this is coalition money that is not based on their needs, which was first granted to them in the previous left-wing government, and there is absolutely no reason in the world that it should be granted in our government as well. Are you suggesting that, heaven forbid, if someday a left-wing government is formed here, it will continue to budget our coalition funds, reflecting our priorities and values, because the bodies receiving the funding are built on us?!"
"The priorities of our national government, mine as finance minister and I am convinced that yours as interior minister, are different from those of the previous left-wing government and we do not need to apologize for that."