Lapid with Livni. Archive
Photo: Motti Kimchi
A government meeting about tax benefits and anti-Semitism turned into a full on political confrontation within the ruling coalition, pitting both center and right coalition elements against the sole left-leaning party in the government.
During Sunday's Cabinet meeting, the government held a discussion regarding anti-Semitism. Tourism Minister Uzi Landau commented on international criticism on Israel's West Bank settlement policy, claiming that among other reasons it stemmed from anti-Semitism.
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In response, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said that "it is our job to fight anti-Semitism, but those who think that critics of Israel's settlement policy are anti-Semitic, hurt the battle against anti-Semitism, and when they tell this to our friends around the world who are critical of our policy, they hurt the struggle and alienate our friends."
Livni continued saying: "Let's say the truth. Those who insist on building and encouraging settling in isolated settlements are those who encourage international boycott on Israel. Those who are working towards a political agreement are those who want to stop the boycott and the damage to Israel's economy."
Earlier in the meeting Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid had words when Lapid attempted to present and pass a new national priority map of the communities set to receive tax benefits from the government. A conflict between him and Livni broke out after she learned the list included a number of settlements and outposts.
At the beginning of the meeting, Livni offered Lapid to postpone the vote on the new list so as to allow the government to reexamine the issue in light of possible international criticism resulting from the addition of some 35 settlements and outposts to the tax-beneficiaries' list. However, Lapid was adamant in his intention to conduct the vote.
"These (tax break) criteria promote settlement in remote communities," Livni said, referencing the outposts, to which Lapid responded that "these are equalitarian criteria," hinting that the inclusion of the settlement communities stemmed from technical criteria and was not a direct attempt to grant the remote outposts tax breaks.
The tax breaks given, are decided on in the form of a map defining 'national priority areas' which in turn are entitled to tax benefits. The Finance Ministry explained that the new map will also include some 100 Arab communities – previously left out – specifically because the State cannot allow geographical discrimination.
Livni on her part expressed concern at the possible political and international ramifications of adding the remote settlements to the map, and demanded that a new and later hearing on the issue be held in a bid to prevent – or at least postpone – international criticism.
Livni offered not to continue the current technical discussion, but rather conduct a more fundamental debate on what the possible implications of encouraging population settlement in these communities could have on Israel's international standing and the US-led peace talks.
According to the new criteria, expected to come into effect January 2015, tax breaks would include all communities north of latitude 750, south of latitude 610 or east of latitude 250. In addition, all communities numbering less than 750,000 residents will also enjoy benefits. The new proposal put forward by Lapid also extends the benefits to poor communities and creates a new index measuring the level of peripherality of a certain community.