Israeli minister Benny Gantz demanded on Sunday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remove all political payouts from a proposed wartime budget, widening a potentially dangerous rift with religious nationalist parties in the government.
Gantz, who has emerged as Netanyahu’s primary political rival, left the opposition to join him in a small-forum war cabinet shortly after Hamas’ Oct. 7 killing spree through southern Israel that sparked the war in Gaza.
Even as a cabinet member Gantz has not hesitated to lash out at Netanyahu, particularly when the prime minister took a swipe at his intelligence chiefs over the Hamas attack.
But the budget issue could have real-world consequences and potentially end a shaky emergency arrangement bringing together the centrist Gantz with Netanyahu’s hard-right partners including Finance Minister Bezelel Smotrich.
Under the coalition agreement Netanyahu struck with Smotrich and the heads of other religious parties after last year’s election, billions of dollars are due to be set aside for ultra-Orthodox and far-right-wing pro-settler parties.
Gantz, in a strongly-worded letter to Netanyahu that his office made public, referred to a meeting of the broader cabinet scheduled for Monday that will deal with the proposed budget changes.
Gantz repeated his opposition to the inclusion of “coalition funds” in the proposed budget and said there should be no extra money for purposes beyond the war effort or supporting economic growth.
Should the meeting take place and the budget remain as is, Gantz said his faction would “vote against the proposed budget and weigh its next steps”.
Netanyahu’s office said he would bring the budget to a vote on Monday and tried to downplay Gantz’s criticism, saying the “political argument is about one percent of the total budget”.
Most of the coalition funds had been cut, and those that remained were apolitical, it said.
The Bank of Israel has also been critical of the proposed budget amendments, saying the cuts were insufficient and that the government needed to show more fiscal responsibility in dealing with the economic impact of the war.