Tel Aviv vs. Jerusalem: Mayors Trade Barbs Over Tax Funds to Help Poorer Areas

Ron Huldai accuses his capital-city counterpart of hypocrisy and factionalism; Nir Barkat attacks the 'cynicism' of the Tel Aviv mayor and other rich cities toward poverty.

Tomer Appelbaum

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai slammed Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Monday for supporting draft laws that would redistribute local governments’ revenue from municipal taxes and introduce differential funding for education and social services.

The Knesset bills, which Huldai opposes, call for the government to increase the state’s contribution for these services in poor municipalities and decrease its relative funding to wealthier communities.

Huldai sent a sarcastic letter to Barkat, accusing him of factionalism and hypocrisy. “I assume that as a man of morality and conscience, you cannot accept the fact that, in accordance with the Jerusalem Law, the government allocates special funding to Jerusalem – which this year exceeds 300 million shekels ($76.3 million), and which surely could have been given to our brothers in poor cities that did not have the fortune to benefit from these grants,” Huldai wrote.

“Your moral conscience, which we lack, presumably causes you to choose not to fight with us over strengthening disadvantaged cities by increasing state spending on education and welfare, but rather to fight against us and our desire to avoid damage to education and welfare in our city, and especially in its poorer neighborhoods,” the Tel Aviv mayor continued.

“The threats and methods employed by the heads of the rich cities, together with their loss of shame and social solidarity, should be a warning light to every Israeli,” Barkat said in response. “I am sorry that Huldai – the mayor of Israel’s wealthiest city – and his colleagues in other rich cities are cynical about the distress of the 56 percent of Israelis who live in weakened communities and suffer from years of discrimination in the distribution of resources. We are not asking for charity. Rather, we are demanding the fair and correct distribution of state funds to local governments. This will not hurt the residents of rich cities, but will significantly strengthen the residents of the poorer ones, enabling all of us to provide equal conditions to every child in Israel.”

Haaretz recently published figures showing gaps of hundreds of percent between the amounts the central government paid in municipal taxes to different communities, some of them just hundreds of meters apart.

In July, a bill stipulating a differential allocation of funds for education and social services to local governments was submitted by the heads of the Knesset's Caucus for Distributive Justice – Yossi Yonah (Zionist Union), Orli Levi-Abekasis (Yisrael Beiteinu) and Miki Zohar (Likud). The bill would increase state allocations to poorer communities at the expense of allocations to wealthier ones, by at least 2 billion shekels. Last week, the 14 Zionist Union MKs who signed the draft law received a letter of reprimand from several mayors, including Huldai, Holon Mayor Moti Sasson and Rishon Letzion Mayor Dov Tzur.

Also last week, Huldai, Sasson and Tzur threatened to block Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s housing programs if the government’s differential funding plan went forward. Due to pressure from the Union of Local Authorities in Israel (which represents the country's local governments), together with an association of the state’s 15 wealthiest cities, the plan was removed from the state budget draft law and is now the focus of discussions between the treasury and local authorities.

The heads of the richest cities, however, decided to bury the plan without waiting for the result of the talks.