Burial Societies: Treasury's Spin a Joke, Public Will Pay Tax on Graves

Treasury insisted earlier that no, grieving families won't have to pay property tax on cemetery plots, the burial societies will. The burial societies think not.

The Finance Ministry may deny reports that families will have to pay property tax (arnona) on the cemetery plots of their dead, and that the burial socities will cover the bill. But the burial societies beg to differ, on Sunday calling the treasury's version "a bad joke". 

Over the weekend, the media reported the Finance Ministry's plan to charge arnona on burial plots. The ministry elaborated that it means to revoke the property tax exemption for religious Jewish burial societies (hevrot kadisha),  which run cemeteries all over the country.

“There is no truth to the report that we will demand property tax on a cemetery plot,” said a Finance Ministry spokesman on Sunday. “For years the burial societies were required to pay local property tax for the area of the cemeteries, which legally is considered land used by the [local] Religious Council; just as is any institution required to pay property tax, such as the IDF does for its bases, and so on.

“Until July 2010, the burial societies were required to pay property tax on the areas used for burial they manage. This payment was stopped after a law passed in the Knesset in July 2010, sponsored by MK Moshe Gafni, which granted the burial societies an exemption from property taxes. As a result, local authorities’ revenues fell by tens of millions of shekels," said the treasury spokesman.

The forum of Hevrot Kadishot responded to the treasury’s statements: “This is a joke in bad taste from the treasury officials. When the officials were faced with the public’s fury this morning as a result of their original intention to levy property tax on burial plots, they are not trying to spin [the issue] in an attempt to calm the public and claim as if the property tax will be levied on the Hevrot Kadishot,” said the forum, headed by Zeev Rozenberg.

On Sunday, Yedioth Aharonoth reported that among the new economic measures proposed for the 2013-2014 budget is a proposal to rescind the arnona exemption for cemeteries. The story claimed that if the new draft of the Economic Arrangements Law to be presented to the cabinet this week is passed by the Knesset, Israeli residents will be required to pay local property taxes reaching several hundred shekels for every burial plot they own, or that holds the remains of a family member.

The exemption from local property taxes for cemetery burial plots was first rescinded in 2003, but after a massive public outcry the exemption was reinstated in 2010.

“In the proposed 2013-2014 budget the Finance Ministry proposed returning the situation to its previous state, and preventing this loss of revenues from the local authorities. The rates charged for those interested in buying a burial plot while still alive are set by law, and cannot be changed, except with the Knesset's approval,” said the ministry.

The burial societies say they never paid property tax anywhere in Israel ever for the cemeteries they are responsible for: “The opposite is true! Since the establishment of the state the cemeteries were exempt from property tax,” said a burial society spokesman.

The forum said this has been the case since 1938. “In 2003 the exemption was cancelled by mistake, but no local authority collected these taxes, understanding there was no moral logic to roll over the taxes onto citizens who bury their loved ones. In 2010, the distortion was corrected and the exemption on property tax on cemeteries as returned in a law that received government backing,” said the spokesman.

Gafni, the former chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, said he made sure to remove the injustice that required the burial societies to pay the tax. In practice, the tax was passed on to the families of the deceased. Cancelling the exemption now means the tax will have to be paid by the families, since the burial societies have no way, and will never have the means, to pay the tax.

The burial societies say by law, and in line with a Supreme Court ruling, the plots belong to those who bought them – and not the hevra kadisha – and the taxes would be have to be paid by the owners of the plots, the families and heirs of the deceased.

Protesting Lapid’s budget

On Saturday, thousands of people demonstrated against the new budgetary measures under the banner "Come on, to the streets! Take from the tycoons not from us!" Sources estimated that at least 10,000 people participated in the march that began at Habima Square and then proceeded through the surrounding streets, concluding at Rothschild Boulevard.

But there are small victories afoot. Yesterday it was publicized that the planned increase in co-pays for doctor visits and other medical expenses, such as bandaging and hearing devices, would be rescinded following strong public criticism. The proposed draft of the Economic Arrangements Law nevertheless includes several pieces of bad news for parents and students: The deep cuts planned for the Education Ministry's budget will lead to the cancellation or indefinite freeze of programs intended to both benefit students and reduce the financial burden on middle-class parents, as well as a funding cut for ultra-Orthodox yeshivas.

If the current draft of the Economic Arrangements Law is passed, in practical terms it will mean that the decisive majority of the education chapter of the Trajtenberg Committee's report will not be implemented. The major exception would be the recommendation to institute free education for children ages 3 and 4, which was the most the significant recommendation in terms of its effect on the government budget. The Trajtenberg Committee was tasked by the previous Netanyahu government with brainstorming solutions to address social and economic problems in Israeli society following to the 2011 social justice protests.

Nir Keidar