Discussions by the Knesset Finance Committee on benefits for alternate prime minister Benny Gantz have been postponed after a public outcry over its approval of controversial retroactive tax benefits worth hundreds of thousands of shekels for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as a spike in the number of coronavirus cases.
The talks were set to take place on Sunday, after committee chairman United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni ended Tuesday’s discussions following a successful vote to pass the tax breaks, worth an estimated NIS 1 million (some $270,000) for Netanyahu.
Gantz’s Blue and White party has said it is inappropriate for the talks to be held while the country is in a delicate economic situation due to the coronavirus pandemic, made worse as infection numbers continue to surge, the Walla news site reported.
Gantz has previously expressed disinterest in receiving any benefits as alternate prime minister; any perks given to Gantz now would presumably transfer over to Netanyahu were he to assume the post of alternate prime minister in 2021 as agreed.
Those include a team of workers to staff an official residence, expenses relating to the property itself and its maintenance, hosting expenses, and economic benefits for family members who live with him.
Gantz already said earlier this month that he was waiving the right to an official residence granted to him as alternate prime minister and would continue to live at his private home, as well as the other perks.
The Knesset Finance Committee on Tuesday voted to approve controversial retroactive tax benefits worth hundreds of thousands of shekels for Netanyahu.
The Blue and White party was reportedly caught unawares by a clause added by Likud in the draft proposal of the unity deal sent to the committee, which stated that “income tax imposed on the prime minister between January 1, 2009, and December 31, 2017, for income derived from payments, services and benefits, outside of salary and stipends, will be at the expense of the state treasury.”
The benefits cover the cost of income tax Netanyahu owes due to upgrades to his vehicle, renovations at his private home in Caesarea, and other expenses dating back to 2009.
The clause effectively means Netanyahu will be absolved of all taxes not related to his salary or allowance, with Channel 12 noting that this could potentially include taxation on profits he made from stock trading and other private ventures.
Likud has denied that Netanyahu would seek reimbursement for taxes he paid on private investments and insisted that the tax benefits would only relate to expenses he incurred in his duty as prime minister.
The unity government has faced criticism for placing additional financial burdens on the state while the economy is struggling due to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown measures aimed at stopping its spread.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party slammed the tax break, saying that “while businesses collapse and hundreds of thousands of people are unemployed, the Knesset Finance Committee deals with one thing: tax benefits for Bibi.”
In 2018, the Knesset passed legislation that absolves the prime minister of taxes for many of his private expenses. The law gave Netanyahu, one of the wealthiest lawmakers in the Knesset, an effective raise of NIS 200,000 ($58,300) per year.
The latest legislative clauses pertain to the period prior to the passage of that legislation.
Likud previously responded to reports about the Netanyahu tax clause by saying that the prime minister was not asking for anything that had not been granted to previous holders of the office.
However, The Marker newspaper noted that such issues are not believed to have come up at all for previous prime ministers, as they never made such funding demands from the state for private residences, certainly not on the scale of Netanyahu’s requests.