Galilee Towns Strike to Protest Lowered Tax Benefits

Lawmakers fear that if tax scheme, stuck in a Knesset committee, is not approved, no one in outlying locales will get any benefits.

Rami Shlush

Hundreds were demonstrating on Monday in the Galilee over a government plan to cut tax benefits to outlying communities. Demonstrations in several Western Galilee towns on Monday joined an open-ended strike to protest the government’s plan.

On Sunday, municipal offices stopped receiving the public in Ma’alot-Tarshiha, Acre, Nahariya and Kfar Vradim, and 30,000 pupils in those locales did not go to school, with only special education facilities in session. Classes were canceled because municipal workers in the schools also joined the strike, among them security guards, bus drivers, janitors and administrative staff.

Residents organized demonstrations Monday at the Ein Hamifratz junction and in Nahariya, and employees of local industrial plants were expected to participate as well. There were plans to erect a protest in the Wohl Rose Park in Jerusalem, across from the Knesset.

Approval of a new map of outlying towns that are due to receive tax benefits is stuck in the Knesset. Because several Likud MKs want to limit the fallout vis-a-vis the locales in the periphery, and also to include some West Bank settlements in the map, Knesset Finance Committee chairman MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) has refused to put the scheme to a vote.

Some MKs fear that if the map is not approved, the High Court of Justice will strike down the current tax policy and leave everyone in outlying areas without benefits. A petition has been pending for years against the existing map, which the petitioners claim is discriminatory.  

For his part, however, Nahariya Mayor Jacky Sabag said he hoped the committee won’t approve the new plan, “which will do a great injustice to the cities along the line of confrontation in the north.”

Gafni’s office refused to relate to the strike, but sources there said that he had formulated an unprecedented framework for the High Court that sets criteria for receiving tax benefits, such that hundreds of communities would receive them for the first time.

“It seems that without the approval of the proposed framework, the High Court will totally strike down the current framework and the entire country will not get tax benefits,” a source in Gafni’s office said. “It’s too bad that mayors trying to get themselves a larger proportion are withholding these important benefits from the whole country and residents of their own communities.”