PM Netanyahu focused on two issues: the instability of security in our region, the global economic earthquake and the social needs of the citizens of Israel.

 Excerpts from PM Netanyahu's statement at the Knesset


PM Netanyahu addresses the Knesset (GPO archive photo)

Note: By law, 40 Members of the Knesset are needed to summon the Prime Minister for a discussion in the plenum on a subject of their choice. This may be done once a month.

[Translated from Hebrew]

Mr. Speaker, let me address truly serious issues – the instability of security in our region, the global economic earthquake and the social needs of the citizens of Israel. Regarding the instability in our region, last month there were two new incidents that certainly may influence us: the results of the elections in Egypt and the new reality in Iraq.

The peace between Israel and Egypt is a strategic asset for both countries. It has provided us with quiet on our western border for over 30 years. I hope that any government elected in Egypt will recognize the value of maintaining the peace – its value in and of itself and its value to Egypt. Regarding the terrorist organizations that think we will sit on our hands in the face of their attempts to harm us from the Sinai, they will discover, as they discovered last night, our firm hand. In any event, within less than a year, we will complete the construction of the border fence along our common border with the Sinai. This step is essential in stopping the penetration of terrorists into our territory and in stopping the flood of illegal labor infiltrators into our cities.

With regard to Iraq, the new situation created there may create challenges for the State of Israel to our east which we have not yet faced or dealt with for nearly 10 years. This development certainly increases the importance of the peace between Israel and Jordan, which is also a strategic asset for both countries.

In Iran which continues to develop its nuclear armament; to Libya from which dangerous weapons are smuggled to our enemies. I mention these dramatic changes because they obligate us to refresh our defense and strategic thinking, and Members of Knesset, we are doing this. In the coming days, we will make decisions regarding the defense budget in order to provide a solution to the new challenges we face, but in such a way that the economy and society are not adversely affected. This is not a simple challenge because the necessary balance between these needs is complex and difficult, but I believe it is possible…

I believe that this responsibility is more necessary than ever in light of the recent developments in the global economic arena. Many economies in Europe continue to wobble. I do not believe there is anyone here who thinks that this crisis is over. These economies have not escaped danger and it is not clear when they will recover. In comparison, Israel’s economy continues to grow; Israel’s unemployment rate has reached its lowest level in decades, 5%. I remember when the unemployment rate was more than twice that. It is good that we are no longer at that stage, and that the unemployment rate in Israel is significantly lower than that of the United States and Euro bloc countries, Britain, Scandinavia and Australia. Even if the Bank of Israel forecast will materialize and unemployment increases from 5% to more than 6%, this is still a figure considerably lower than that of leading global economies.

Members of Knesset, let me emphasize two points. Firstly, we are in this situation precisely because, unlike other countries, we acted with the aforementioned responsibility and did not waste money without thought. Secondly, with all our success, we still face difficult economic challenges because right now we are witnessing a unique combination of regional upheaval the likes of which we have not experienced in 90 years and a global economic upheaval unprecedented in the past 80 years.

This combination of both global crises at the same time creates a built-in tension between the government’s security responsibility and its economic responsibility. The security needs obligate us to consider a significant increase in the defense budget, while the economic needs obligate budgetary restraint in all areas. We will need to find the proper balance between the two in order to maintain the security of the citizens of Israel while at the same time, safeguarding Israel’s economy. Obviously if the economy collapses then security collapses as well. There is no security without the economy, and security costs a great deal of money. To add even more to this equation, we must also deal with various social needs – and we will do so…

We are approving the Trajtenberg Report in the government section by section. We approved the taxation section; we approved the competitiveness and cost of living section; we approved the clauses regarding streamlining and improving government regulation. Starting January 1, working fathers with one child under the age of three will enjoy an additional net NIS 418 in the monthly paycheck. Furthermore, as part of the tax reform we approved earlier, working mothers with a child under the age of five will receive an additional tax credit compared with what they receive today. On January 1, the reduction in sales tax on hundreds of electrical appliances will take effect. We eliminated the planned tax on gasoline. We eliminated the customs tax on internet purchases up to the amount of NIS 1,200. And there are two big things yet to come: one is the section on housing; and the second is education…

Let me now address an issue that was brought up here today and that is the illegitimate actions taken by an extremist group in Bet Shemesh. In the State of Israel, we will not accept women being spit on in the street just because their manner of dress does not seem appropriate to someone, or for any reason. I gave instructions to act against anyone who harasses women or any people in the public sphere. There are laws regarding the protection of rights in other spheres, but first and foremost, we are discussing the public sphere. Part of Israel’s being a Western, liberal democracy is that its public sphere is open and safe for everyone, and it will be so.

I also think that in this case we have to be careful not to generalize and include an entire population, because the vast majority of the ultra-Orthodox population combines the upholding of the halacha with upholding the law. I welcome the fact that important rabbis and prominent leaders of the ultra-Orthodox community, including my partners here in the Knesset and the government, strongly condemned these immoral acts. There are a number of ultra-Orthodox ministers and members of Knesset in the coalition from all the parties represented in the government who have themselves been the victims of a physical and violent attack, and that is why the attempt to include them and the entire ultra-Orthodox community in a violent, law-breaking, unrestrained fringe group, and the attempt to paint them as such is irresponsible. The leaders who are here and other leaders who have spoken out against these groups are acting responsibly.

Those who say that these fringes reflect broad sections of a public blacken an entire country and entire populations. That is why, rather than engaging in goading that promotes injustice in the State of Israel, it would be better if people united around the broad basis of national agreement that exists among the people to eradicate these phenomena. That is what the people of Israel expect a responsible leadership to do, and that is what we are doing.