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Israel: Finance minister browbeats fellow coalition MKs at committee meeting, some leave

The Knesset’s Finance Committee halted a discussion Monday due to a rare quarrel between Finance Minister Israel Katz and other members of the coalition and even of his own party.

Katz was participating in a meeting to discuss a government-proposed bill that would incentivize businesses to return their furloughed employees to work despite the uncertainty clouding the economy, as the country reopens but coronavirus cases continue to rise.

The cost of the new bill is estimated at NIS 5.5 billion ($1.6 billion).

Many committee members have expressed reservations about parts of the legislation, which is being prepared for second and third readings at the plenum.

But Katz refused to hear the misgivings, even from his fellow Likud MK Nir Barkat, saying he wasn’t interested in “hearing speeches.”

Barkat, who had once been promised the finance portfolio by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu only to be snubbed ahead of the new government’s swearing-in, fumed at Katz.

“The fact that you aren’t listening to my comments and to comments by the public is not okay,” he said.

“You were against it from the start,” Katz retorted.

After Barkat continued to insist on expressing his objections, Katz insinuated that he was merely making a scene for the cameras.

Katz also lashed out against Shas MK Yinon Azoulay, also from the coalition, telling him: “Excuse me, are you from Shas? Then vote!”

“Don’t you tell me what to do,” Azoulay responded. “I’m allowed to voice my opinion. What’s this silencing?”

Economy Minister Amir Peretz also opposed the treasury proposal, arguing that it rewarded employers who dropped their workers but harmed those who had kept their employees on the payroll even at a loss, according to the Globes business daily.

Katz was said to respond: “There is an alternate prime minister [but] there is no alternate finance minister. I am the finance minister and I will lead the implementation of the government decisions, which I proposed, and which were accepted by an overwhelming majority.”

Some coalition members declared they weren’t “rubber stamps” and demanded a more open discussion. However, Katz made it clear that in his opinion, “coalition members should back the government and support [the current bill].”

Several lawmakers then left the room, and committee chairman Moshe Gafni, of United Torah Judaism, called a break.

In an address last month, Katz presented his new Finance Ministry plan aimed at encouraging employers to take back employees they placed on unpaid leave during the height of the pandemic in March.

For every employee called back, places of business will receive a grant of NIS 7,500 ($2,141) starting on June 1, according to the plan. An additional grant of some NIS 3,500 ($1,000) will be handed out to employers for employees called back in May.

Katz said some NIS 500 million ($142 million) has been allocated for businesses that would put employees back to work.

Source: TOI Staff