Opposition to petition High Court over vote on third apartment tax

Edelstein and opposition’s call for a do-over falls on deaf ears.

December 18, 2016 16:57
3 minute read.
The knesset

The knesset during the boycott on Oct. 31, 2016. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The opposition plans to petition the High Court of Justice against the Knesset Finance Committee’s approval of a tax on owners of three or more apartments, MKs announced Sunday.

The decision came after Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) rebuffed requests from Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and opposition MKs on Sunday to redo Friday morning’s vote on the controversial article in the Economic Arrangements Bill, which is passed in tandem with the budget.

Opposition factions released a statement accusing the coalition of “sodomizing public funds” and called the approval process, in which MKs were shown the final version of the article only an hour before the vote, illegal.

“The coalition’s bullying on the way to authorizing the budget has broken all records,” opposition coordinator MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union) said. “In practicality, the MKs were asked to vote on a new draft of a bill, which was not officially submitted, and they did not have time to learn it... If the Finance Committee chairman does not understand the severity of the situation and the Knesset speaker does not insist on fixing it, we have no choice but to go to the High Court to disqualify the process.”

Earlier Sunday, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein threw his support behind the opposition’s demand to disqualify and redo the vote, but not the decision to bring the issue to the High Court.

“We demand the speaker disqualify the legislative procedure in light of the Knesset’s legal adviser and the Finance Committee’s legal adviser’s conclusive opinion that the procedure was wrongful,” read a separate letter to Edelstein, which was signed by MKs Zehava Gal-On (Meretz), Ahmad Tibi (Joint List), Osama Sa’adi (Joint List), Manuel Trajtenberg (Zionist Union), Miki Rosenthal (Zionist Union) and Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid).

Edelstein wrote a letter of his own to Gafni, asking him to heed the opposition lawmakers’ call.

“Even if the chapter is authorized legally, there is no argument that the process of authorization suffers from impropriety, especially because it is a chapter that includes a complex taxation arrangement, and therefore requires a deeper discussion,” Edelstein wrote. He suggested that the new meeting be held on Sunday.

Gafni, however, refused to hold another meeting on the matter, saying the discussion was deep and serious enough, and citing his membership in the coalition and relationship with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.

Edelstein does not have the authority to tell committee chairmen what to do or to reverse their decisions.

Voting on the second and third (final) readings of the budget is slated to begin on Monday afternoon, leaving little time for any do-overs in the Finance Ministry.

The opposition’s letter followed a letter from Yinon to Gafni, saying the legislative procedure on the new tax was “carried out with gross improprieties that go to the very roots of the procedure.”

Edelstein and the opposition MKs cited Yinon’s professional opinion as well as that of the committee’s legal adviser, Sagit Afik, who reportedly voiced her opposition to the questionable procedure during Thursday night’s debate over the bill.

“The MKs’ rights were trampled as they were not even allowed to study the bill they were supposed to vote on,” the lawmakers wrote.

In the coalition, MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) called the article’s approval problematic, and the usually staunch opponent of judicial intervention in Knesset matters said that, in this case, the High Court of Justice should intervene, because the democratic process was damaged.

Smotrich posited that Kahlon wanted the court to cancel the bill so he can look like he fought for the policy, but will not actually have to implement it.

According to the Finance Committee’s spokesman, Eyal Kazir, the bill was only accepted for a vote after “stubborn negotiations between committee members and the heads of the Finance Ministry and the Tax Authority.”

The opposition MKs staged a walkout on Thursday night in protest of the bill’s late submission for study and did not participate in Friday morning’s vote.

Gafni also stormed out of the committee in protest at around 6 a.m., calling the taxation clause “the worst bill ever,” and was replaced by the coalition coordinator in the Finance Committee, Miki Zohar (Likud), who oversaw the vote, which ended nearly an hour later.

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