Tax-break bill for Golan residents splits Kadima MKs

Vote passes, with the support of Netanyahu and Steinitz, by an overwhelming majority of 67 to 13, with one abstention.

Just when it seemed that Kadima was preparing for a unified rally against the expat voting bill, coalition MKs enlisted a previously unpublicized bill to prove on Wednesday how shaky opposition leader Tzipi Livni’s hold on the party really is.
Livni was forced to allow Kadima lawmakers to break with faction discipline during an early afternoon vote on MK Eli Aflalo’s (Kadima) bill to offer tax discounts to residents of most Golan Heights communities.
Livni and her allies announced on Tuesday that they opposed the bill, arguing that following recent tensions with Syria, any move to reassert the permanence of Israeli control of the Golan could needlessly heat up tensions further.
But in a hearing on the measure in the House Committee on Wednesday, the coalition pushed to quickly advance the bill to its preliminary reading on the house floor. Kadima legislators argued that the decision was made after the Likud realized that a large number of Kadima MKs were signed onto Aflalo’s bill, and that forcing a vote would force those MKs to vote either against their own bill or against their party leadership.
With the bill set for its preliminary vote on Wednesday, the Kadima leadership tried to convince the government to delay the vote. When the coalition refused, Kadima attacked both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, accusing the government of “miserable timing.”
“It would be expected that those who are responsible for Israel’s foreign policy, and first and foremost those who talk of calming the current conditions, would put their political considerations in the appropriate position in their priorities and stop playing with fire at the expense of the State of Israel,” slammed one Kadima official.
But in advance of the vote, when it became clear that the Kadima lawmakers who were signed on the bill as co-sponsors planned on sticking to their guns – and their legislation – Kadima’s leadership was forced to release its MKs from faction discipline.
The vote passed, with the support of Netanyahu, as well as of Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, by an overwhelming majority of 67 to 13, with one abstention. The Kadima MKs who voted in support of the bill included Robert Tibayev, Arieh Bibi, Ya’acov Edri, Ruhama Avraham-Balila, Marina Solodkin, Shaul Mofaz, Ze’ev Boim, Yulia Shamolov Berkovich and Meir Sheetrit.
Aflalo’s bill would not extend the proposed tax benefits to the four Druse communities in the northern Golan, which he said largely identify with Syria and demonstrate little desire to become part of Israeli society.  Golan residents who do not already enjoy tax benefits in their communities would benefit, as a result of the bill, by income tax reductions of up to 13%.
Addressing the Knesset plenum immediately before the vote, Aflalo responded to hecklers asking if he had joined the Likud by reiterating that “Kadima isn’t a left-wing party. Get that out of your minds. Kadima is a centrist party and will remain a centrist party, and will continue as such.”
In a conversation with The Jerusalem Post following the vote, Aflalo said that while he did not intend the bill to be used as a tool against his party chairwoman, the vote did show that “there are still some real centrists in Kadima.”
The Afula resident said he sponsored the legislation out of concern and appreciation for the residents of the Golan Heights, and that he hoped that one day he too could make his home there.
Aflalo and Livni had a much-publicized falling-out last month, in which the veteran legislator submitted a request to be recognized as independent from the Knesset’s largest faction.
Aflalo’s bill was not the only blow for Kadima on the Knesset floorWednesday. Shortly after the vote, Kadima was forced once again toallow freedom from party discipline on another bill – a proposal byMeretz MK Nitzan Horowitz to reform the kashrut certificationstandards. On that bill, too, the party fractured along similar lines.