The Shekel Drops / Breakfast for a Shekel, Lunch for Three

Tax authorities haven't updated business expense sums for about 25 years, and times have changed.

One of the basic rules of the tax system is the recognition of expenses incurred for the purpose of generating income. Thus, the tax authorities allow self-employed individuals who do not work at home to claim restaurant meals as a business expense.

The problem is that the tax authorities haven't updated the sums for about 25 years, and times have changed. If you are self-employed and you want to claim a deduction for meals you ate out while working out of town, say, these are the amounts you can claim: One shekel for breakfast, NIS 4 for lunch and NIS 2 for supper. In other words, the Tax Authority is prepared to recognize a total of NIS 7 for a day's meals at restaurants, and that's only if you can produce proper invoices from the restaurants. If not, the deductibility ceiling is one shekel for breakfast, three for lunch and one for supper, or NIS 5 for the day.

It's been a long time since you could get breakfast for a shekel. You can barely get a plain roll for a shekel today.

The ludicrousness of these amounts led Lahav, an umbrella organization of the self-employed, to file a High Court of Justice petition against the Tax Authority a year ago, demanding that it finally revise the sums to sensible ones.

Instead of hanging his head in shame and hastening to the task, tax commissioner Yehuda Nasradishi motioned the court to throw out the suit. That didn't work. So the Finance Ministry slipped an article into the Economic Arrangements Law, that hodgepodge list of unrelated items with some economic bent or other, that eliminates the tax deduction for meal expenses entirely. C'est tout.

While about it, why not abolish the recognition of travel and fuel expenses? Why not end the tax deduction for restaurant expenses incurred abroad? If you're from Jerusalem and you're traveling on business, say, what difference does it make whether your dinner is in Tbilisi or in Tiberias, New York or Nahariya?

Naturally the Histadrut labor federation and manufacturers oppose ending tax deductions for foreign travel expenses. But they should set clear boundaries and insist on the recognition of meal costs, at reasonable levels. Unless Nasradishi can tell them where to get breakfast for a shekel and lunch for three.

Bureaucrats in clover

On Sunday, the cabinet formally approved Israel's admission into the OECD, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. All in all it's good news, because it's good to belong to such a distinguished organization. But membership in the club is very dear.

That's because every time Europe builds an international mechanism it is always expensive, clumsy, and massively over-staffed, by bureaucrats from all over the continent. They come from government offices and move into bureaucrat heaven, with high pay and lush perks, at the expense of the countries belonging to the organization, that finance its activities.

Which means that joining the OECD will cost us tens of millions a year.

That said, even before any collaborative ventures have been signed, the foreign and finance ministries have been dividing up the loot lying about in bureaucrat heaven. It turns out that Israel will open a new representation in Paris to engage solely in OECD affairs, as though the embassy we already have in the French capital couldn't do the job. The ambassador to the OECD hail from the Foreign Ministry, the deputy ambassador from the Finance Ministry.

We taxpayers will also be paying for bureaucrats to travel to conferences, conventions, meetings and consultations with dozens of other bureaucrats. Israel will have to finance its share of these endless meetings and consultations as well as the cost of various humanitarian missions around the world.

Once upon a time, finance minister, Levi Eshkol visited a Bedouin encampment in the Negev. The tribal chieftain wanted to give Eshkol a gift: a noble steed. Eshkol looked at the horse and said, "The horse is gorgeous, but I don't like presents that eat."