Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word

And… we’re back… to normal?

Zalmanson Zeller via the PikiWiki - Israel free image collection project (Wikimedia commons)
Zalmanson Zeller via the PikiWiki - Israel free image collection project (Wikimedia commons)

The rockets stopped falling. Despite fears that the air force could have been harmed by the pilot’s “refusal” protests against the judicial reform, the pilots performed their duties to the letter. The nation came together in the face of an enemy, and the whole operation was over before it had a chance to really get underway.

And then the Finance Ministry announced a new bill to reshuffle the “arnona” property taxes, moving funds from wealthier local councils to less wealthy ones in order to fund housing. Most of the local councils promptly called a strike in protest, threatening to carry on with the strike until the bill is rescinded. Our crazy internal battles resumed as if nothing had happened.

Arnona, I’ll point out, is meant to pay for the services we receive from the local or regional council. There are other mechanisms in a normal welfare state to address inequality, as well as the debt that many local councils carry in providing those services.

Income taxes and value added taxes pay for national expenses, including the over 13 billion shekels that are being handed over to the Haredi communities, as per the coalition agreement. Among other things, the money will go to pay for older men studying in Yeshivas and for schools that do not teach core subjects. In other words, it will go to perpetuating a situation in which non-Haredi people fund the Haredi lifestyle.

No wonder there was general outrage over the plan to get their sticky fingers into our arnona funds as well.

And, of course, there is already a table showing which local councils would profit and which would lose by this plan. Netivot, a religious Jewish community, would gain, while Houra, a near-by Bedouin one, for example, was not on that list. Tel Aviv, of course, would be one of the biggest losers.

Lod, according to the news report, would be gaining funds under this arrangement. What’s wrong with this plan?

Where is the tax money from this zone going, if not to Lod?

First of all, the idea was to take from the localities whose tax base includes large industrial and tech areas that pay premium property taxes. At the north end of Lod, there is a large industrial zone, with tall, shiny, modern glass buildings, including, for example, main bank back offices. Where is the tax money from this zone going, if not to Lod?

Second, more critically, is the question of who will benefit from the extra tax shekels? No one doubts the city could use some more funding. If you walk around Lod’s Ramat Eshkol neighborhood, you’ll see fading signs promising urban renewal and stalled projects. But one of the reasons that urban renewal has not been able to proceed is the opposition of residents of the neighborhood. Some have refused to participate in what is a move to “upgrade” the population along with its apartment blocks.

It has been a long time since Lod was interested in helping the weaker members of its population. It would rather have them vacate the premises – especially if they are Arab – and make way for those populations that have access to ample government funding. Money directed to housing needs will, to put it simply, add a bit of grease to the machinery for Judaizing the city.

The proposed bill is a quick Band-Aid meant to cover a gaping wound, and it’s a bad one at that. It does absolutely nothing to address the underlying infection, and it won’t even do a proper job of helping those who need it most. It may, at best, do a proper job of funneling money to certain party’s constituents, but that is about all.

Are there any real solutions?

The local councils’ strike is hurting the very people they are meant to serve. (I see my chances shrinking of getting my saferoom approved before the next war.) But we pay our arnona to our local council. What would happen if they simply refused to hand over the money? Alternately, if our local councils use strikes to make their point, we citizens should refuse to hand over arnona payments until the new arnona bill is rescinded.

The gap between rich and poor is real in the country, and we do need to address it. Industrial and tech zones, employment and property taxes are all tied together. But the answer is not a “Robinhood bill” that takes from some and gives to the minister’s friends. Tel Aviv-Yafo, for example, is not a uniformly wealthy municipality. It has its own pockets of poverty and homelessness. Why not insist that Tel Aviv use a percentage of the taxes it receives from high-tech and multi-million shekel apartments to build subsidized housing and shelters in Tel Aviv-Yafo?

We citizens should refuse to hand over arnona payments until the new arnona bill is rescinded

We are talking about complicated problems here, and I won’t list all the causes and partial solutions. I have nothing against Netivot, but I’m starting to resent the free handouts. Rather than subsidizing housing in a poor city that has few nearby employment opportunities, lets work on solving the economic problems of the city, whether by bringing in industry or improving things like education and transportation. Let’s talk about loans that can be repaid by when arnona taxation rises within the city.

Last week we had a brief respite, in the form of sirens, booms and two dead. The new normal we’ve gone back to is a certified loony bin. Speaking from my corner of that loony bin, I support the local councils’ strikes, even if I end up paying a price. Like most of the new legislation proposed by this government, this bill cannot be allowed to pass.

About the Author
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na'am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.
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