Opposition takes budget gripes to court

Zero VAT proposal moves forward in stormy session; MKs accuse Slomiansky of conflict of interest on WZO Settlement Division.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Finance Minister Yair Lapid.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
MKs in the opposition took their issues with Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s policies to the High Court and the Knesset Legal Adviser Thursday, as discussions of the 0% VAT on housing plan continued in the Knesset Finance Committee.
MKs Nachman Shai (Labor) and Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism), the Rehovot Municipality and others petitioned the High Court to issue a conditional order to Lapid and the Finance Committee to reimburse every resident of Israel who incurred indirect damages during Operation Protective Edge, meaning economic harm from days of work missed and loss of customers.
The Finance Ministry currently plans to only reimburse those who live within 40 km.
of the Gaza Strip for indirect damages.
“The time has come for the finance minister to renounce the demagogic 40 km. line he drew, supposedly based on Home Front Command instructions,” Shai said. “Indirect damages from the war hit citizens in other parts of the country and they deserve to be compensated, without discrimination.”
Shai added that Lapid is playing games, and expressed hope that the High Court will force him to “act according to logic and justice.”
Gafni called the 40 km. line irrelevant, and said: “Rather than throw billions in the trash over the 0% VAT plan, the finance minister should find a way to compensate all those who suffered from the endless shooting from the Gaza Strip.”
Later Thursday, Gafni protested against a developing compromise between the coalition and opposition for the latter to cancel its ongoing filibuster, consisting of hundreds of objections to Lapid’s bill, which would cancel VAT for a young couple’s first home, under certain conditions.
The planned compromise, which was rejected, would have had the 0% VAT plan reach a final vote in November or December, and in the meantime there would be serious discussions of the opposition’s problems with the bill.
Gafni said “a Yesh Atid MK claimed that a compromise was reached because I’m too tired to continue debating. I announce now that I am not tired and I can continue for as long as necessary.”
MK Stav Shaffir (Labor) complained that Finance Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) wanted to prevent the opposition from speaking.
Then, MK Ahmed Tibi (UALTa’al) began detailing his objection to the bill in Arabic as a delay tactic, since on Tuesday MK Esawi Frej (Meretz) did so and a Finance Committee legal adviser said that, according to Knesset regulations, the committee could not vote on his motion without translating it into Hebrew.
Eventually the committee took a more serious tone and managed to vote down most of the opposition’s objections to the bill.
“I hope that members of the opposition will show responsibility so we can have a serious and in-depth discussion on the few objections that are left,” Slomiansky said.
Also Thursday, Shaffir wrote a letter to Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon complaining that Slomiansky has a conflict of interest and should not be allowed to conduct meetings on the World Zionist Organization Settlement Division’s budget.
MKs Gafni, Frej, Ya’acov Litzman (UTJ), Erel Margalit (Labor), Michal Biran (Labor), and Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) signed the letter referring to research by left-wing thinktank Molad that stated the Settlement Division has ties to right-wing NGOs, which, in turn, are connected to the Bayit Yehudi, Slomiansky’s party.
One example of this that Molad found is that the Israel Community Renewal Fund, which is run by Bayit Yehudi Constitution Committee chairman Rabbi Daniel Tropper, received NIS 574,000 from the Settlement Division.
The letter also points to Molad’s findings that far more money is spent on West Bank settlements than towns in the periphery in the North or South, which are part of the Settlement Division’s jurisdiction.
However, Settlement Division chairman Danny Krichman told Army Radio last week that “not one number is right” in the Molad research.
Krichman also asked: “What is wrong with investing in settlers in Judea and Samaria? They’re residents of Israel; they didn’t come from the moon.”
The Settlement Division receives its funding from the government and its budget is not transparent, even though many in the Knesset, including Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, have tried to make it so.
“Finance Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky, who surely knows that his party’s members depend on support from the Settlement Division, did not see fit to disclose this information about the real use of the transfer of funds that his committee authorized,” the MKs’ letter reads.
“We Finance Committee members feel we were misled in light of the gap between the findings of the research and the declarations in the committee’s protocols about the use of the budgets and the Settlement Division’s activities,” Shaffir wrote.
Slomiansky said in response that opposition MKs are trying to gain politically by deceiving the public.
“Unlike the MKs’ claims, there were no new funds transferred to the Settlement Division in 2014. The money they are talking about was a surplus from payments from previous years for projects that took several years. This funding was authorized by a government decision and the Finance Committee last year already,” he said.
In addition, Slomiansky pointed out that Krichman appeared before the committee and explained where the money was going.
“I suggest that some opposition members try a little harder to do their jobs and find new criticisms instead of recycling the same false claims over and over again,” he added.