Chief Justice: Tax Breaks Discriminate Against Arabs

The High Court of Justice yesterday instructed the state to cancel an amendment to the income tax law granting tax breaks to residents of certain communities without clear or egalitarian criteria.

The court president, Justice Dorit Beinisch, and justices Eliezer Rivlin and Asher Grunis sharply criticized the state over the legality of granting such benefits to the residents of certain communities, noting that no Arab communities were included among those entitled to the breaks since the last time the regulations were changed.

Hearings on the matter have been going on since the law was last amended in 2005, following petitions from several interested groups, including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel; Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel; and several mayors and residents of Arab communities in the south, whose petitions were eventually merged into one case.

The justices said that while the petitioners were from varying backgrounds, common to all was the argument that communities were selected to receive tax without demonstrable criteria, and that the selection discriminated against Arab communities in favor of nearby Jewish communities "with no pertinent differences between them."

The justices said: "While MKs and ministers are free to act according to various political dealing with issues of a social-economic nature, this freedom is not absolute. It is limited where it damages a constitutional right, and in this matter, the right to equality."

Sawsan Zaher, an attorney for Adalah said the ruling was "very important for the issue of economic-social equality." Zaher said the ruling had determined that the law granting tax breaks to certain communities was discriminatory and did not take into consideration egalitarian considerations like granting the breaks to Arab communities, most of which are poor, particularly Bedouin communities in the Negev."