In unity deal, Netanyahu seeks personal tax benefits worth hundreds of thousands

Gantz notifies Knesset Finance Committee that he is relinquishing his right to an Alternate Prime Minister’s Residence, along with all the expenses it would entail

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Foreign  Ministry in Jerusalem on June 21, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on June 21, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is personally seeking retroactive tax benefits worth hundreds of thousands of shekels as part of the unity government deal signed with Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, according to details of the arrangement presented Sunday to a parliamentary committee for approval.

The benefits would 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.

Under the terms presented in a draft document to the Knesset Finance Committee, the tax bill will be picked up by the state, and is estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of shekels.

Gantz, meanwhile, told the committee that he was waiving the right to an official residence granted him as the alternate prime minister and will continue to live at his private home.

The committee was being asked to approve costs incurred by the unity deal that grant the newly created position of alternate prime minister the same conditions as the prime minister.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz throws a ball during a photo shoot at his garden in his home in Rosh Ha’ayin, September 13, 2019. (Oded Balilty/AP)

The unity government has faced criticism for placing additional financial burdens on the state at a time when the economy is struggling, due to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown measures aimed at stopping its spread.

Likud responded to reports about the tax clause by saying that Netanyahu was not asking for anything that had not been granted to previous prime ministers.

“The prime minister is not asking for any special terms,” the party said in a statement. “The Finance Committee will require Netanyahu to pay tax exactly like previous prime ministers. There was an outrageous and personal attempt to charge Netanyahu with tax that was not required of any other prime minister. There will not be one law for Netanyahu and another for the previous prime ministers.”

In a letter, Gantz, who is also defense minister, informed committee chair MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) that he was relinquishing “a team of workers, expenses relating to the property itself, its maintenance, and hosting expenses” and that he will also waive proposed economic benefits for his wife and family members who live with him. He said he would also not require outlay for storage or transport of his personal items.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid poses for a photo at his office in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid-Telem) tweeted, “The party at the expense of the public goes on.”

“Bibi [Netanyahu] and and Benny are continuing to waste tens of millions of citizens’ money in return for comforts and hedonism,” he wrote and finished with a slogan that has become his catchphrase in criticizing the government: “Detached lawmakers, we’ve had enough of you.”

According to a Channel 13 news report earlier this month, Netanyahu owes the Tax Authority roughly NIS 600,000 ($172,591) for the period between 2013 and 2018, on bills for gardening, water, electricity, services and more at his home in Caesarea.

The tax bill is from before the 2018 passage of a law, championed by Netanyahu’s Likud party, absolving him of future taxes on his private homes. The law gave Netanyahu, one of the wealthiest lawmakers in the Knesset, an effective raise of NIS 200,000 per year.

The unity coalition deal between Netanyahu and Gantz ended over a year of political deadlock, with the most minister-rich government in Israel’s history.

Under the agreement, the Alternate Prime Minister’s Office will be held by Gantz for 18 months and then transferred to Netanyahu, as part of a power-sharing arrangement designed to allow the latter to keep the prime ministerial title even after vacating the post. Gantz will then take control of the country, as Netanyahu deals with the three corruption cases he faces in a trial that opened last month. Unlike other ministers, a prime minister can remain in his post even after he is indicted on criminal charges.

A clause of the unity agreement grants the alternative prime minister the same conditions as the prime minister regarding an office, security, and a residence. However, the sides have apparently agreed that Netanyahu will continue to stay on in the official residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street, even after the rotation, as Gantz intends to remain at his home in the central region city of Rosh Ha’ayin.

Earlier this month, Hebrew media reports said Gantz was set to get a security motorcade similar to that of Netanyahu, due to his new role as alternate prime minister.

The new security arrangements will come at a cost of NIS 23 million ($6.6 million) per year, according to Channel 12.

As no money was set aside for the motorcade in the current state budget, funding for it will have to come from cuts elsewhere, the network said.

Gantz’s office denied at the time that he was interested in such security arrangements, nor had he asked for them. However, the report said that the motorcade came with his title of alternate prime minister, which necessitates security treatment by the Shin Bet similar to that of the prime minister, and may not entirely be up to him.

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