JERUSALEM (Jun. 17)
The government suffered an acute embarrassment today when a Knesset committee approved a higher defense budget than it had asked for. Some MKs interpreted the act as an expression of nonconfidence in the government. The Labor Alignment’s Knesset whip, Moshe Wertman, accused the National Religious Party of breaching coalition unity and urged Premier Yitzhak Rabin and Labor Party Secretary General Meir Zarml to take disciplinary action against the NRP.
The government was taken by surprise when a joint meeting of the Knesset’s defense and foreign affairs and finance committees voted 18-17 to approve an IL 22,5 billion defense budget today instead of the IL 22 billion budget requested by the government. The government’s defeat was engineered by NRP militants Yehuda Ben Meir and Zevulun Hammer who acted in concert with the opposition Likud. Four Labor Alignment MKs of the ex-Rafi faction who might have been expected to vote for the government’s budget, were absent from the meeting.
The IL 22 billion ceiling was agreed to by the government after tough bargaining between the Defense Ministry and the Ministry of Finance. Defense Minister Shimon Peres and the Chief of Staff, Gen. Mordechai Gur, nevertheless appeared before the joint committees earlier today to appeal for a higher budget on grounds that the defense establishment faced severe difficulties due to budget cuts. The Finance Ministry fears that pouring more money into defense will only accelerate inflation. Ben Meir and Hammer said, however, that they were impressed by the Defense Minister’s arguments that basic defense would suffer if training, arms production and weapons research and development were not adequately covered by the budget.
Wertman castigated the NRP in the Knesset today. He declared that a coalition partner cannot vote against the government’s budget. Ben Meir retorted that security came before coalition unity. Wertman also asked Zarmi to take action against the Alignment MKs who absented themselves from the committee meeting. Alignment MK Zvi Gershuni and Likud’s Zalman Shoval claimed that when the government lost a vote on a budget bill it should resign. But a legal expert, Hans Klinghofer, said that was only the case if a budget bill is defeated by the Knesset as a whole. He said a committee vote could not be construed as a vote of non-confidence.
The government has the option of asking for a revision of the committee’s vote or it can demand a revision when the defense budget comes up for its third and final reading in the Knesset. In any event, political observers agree that today’s vote by the committee reflected the fragile nature of the Rabin coalition.