Israel’s Knesset approved the first reading of the 2013-14 state budget, which has been touted as closing socioeconomic gaps in the country.
The budget, which cuts millions of dollars from defense, child benefits and transportation projects, was approved early Tuesday morning by a vote of 58-44.
It now moves to the Knesset Finance Committee for review and likely alterations before returning to the Knesset floor for approval on second and third readings.
The Knesset must approve the budget by the end of July or go to new elections.
Total spending in 2013 will be 388 billion shekels (nearly $108 billion), rising the next year to 408 billion shekels ($113.5 billion).
Along with the cuts, the austerity budget also increases income tax by 1.5 percent across the board.
“Rather than evading responsibility, we chose to do the responsible thing because Israel’s economy has no choice but to close the deficit as quickly as possible,” Finance Minister Yair Lapid said at the beginning of the budget debate Monday that stretched into the morning hours of Tuesday.
Many speeches by the opposition accused Lapid of harming the majority of Israelis with the budget proposal.
In Israel, Sharon Stone visits kids with AIDS
Actress Sharon Stone visited the pediatric AIDS unit at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem.
Stone, a longtime activist to find an AIDS cure, met privately on Tuesday with each of the sick children, as well as hospital staff, including Dan Engelhard, the head of Hadassah’s pediatric AIDS unit and pediatrics infectious diseases.
“I love Israel, and I love all of you,” she said.
Asked by a reporter about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Stone said, “We can have peace now. We’re going to make mistakes, but there are always mistakes in life.”
Stone is in Israel to participate in the Presidential Conference honoring Israeli President Shimon Peres’ 90th birthday.
Israeli-Arab village hit with racially motivated attack
The tires of 28 cars were slashed and graffiti including “Arabs out” were sprayed on walls in the Arab-Israeli village of Abu Gosh.
Abu Gosh, an Arab-Israeli town located near Jerusalem, has not been victimized with such hate-filled graffiti in many years, according to reports.
The early Tuesday morning attack is believed to be racially motivated, and police have opened an investigation. Other graffiti read “racism or assimilation.”
One of the 28 cars with slashed tires belongs to former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg, who left his vehicle for repairs.
“This act by a small group will not change the residents of Abu Ghosh. We love the Jewish people and the state of Israel,” Abu Gosh Mayor Salim Jaber told Israeli President Shimon Peres later on Tuesday. “We know that this is the act of a small group which seeks to destroy the good relations, but we are stronger than them.”
Peres said the vandalism “is racist behavior which crosses a red line.”
“We utterly condemn any expression of racism and vandalism. The residents of Abu Gosh are dear to my heart and to the state of Israel, they are symbols of coexistence,” he said.
The attack comes just two days after Israel’s Security Cabinet labeled “price tag” attackers as an illegal organization but stopped short of calling them settlers. The new classification approved at a meeting late Sunday night will make it easier for the authorities to prosecute the perpetrators of such attacks, according to reports.
Price tag refers to the strategy that extremist settlers and their supporters have adopted to avenge Palestinian attacks on Jews and for settlement freezes and demolitions. Several price tag attacks in recent months also have targeted Christian sites.
Israeli coalition partner: Two-state solution is dead
The two-state solution is dead, Israeli government minister Naftali Bennett, head of the coalition partner Jewish Home party, told a settlers’ group.
“Never has so much time been invested in something so pointless,” Bennett told a meeting Monday of the Yesha Council in Jerusalem. “We need to build, build, build.”
“The challenge now is how do we move forward from here, knowing that a Palestinian state within Israel is not possible,” Bennett reportedly also said, adding, “We have to move from solving the problem to living with the problem.”
Following Bennett’s remarks, Peace Now called on government minister Yair Lapid, the head of Yesh Atid, to leave the government over past statements that his party would not be part of a government that is not willing to negotiate peace with the Palestinians.
Bennett’s remarks come a week after Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon was roundly condemned for saying that Israel’s government will oppose a two-state solution and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.
— Compiled from reports by JTA News and Features