Dozens of residents of Israel's south broke into a Knesset Finance Committee meeting Wednesday morning, protesting that instead of discussing aid to their region that was hard-hit in Hamas's rocket war the committee was debating a 0% VAT housing bill.
Shouting "Instead of debating 0% VAT deal with the south," and "help us with the war damages," the residents of the south forced their way into the discussion of a law introduced by Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), which would let those who served at least 18 months in the IDF save 18% on VAT in buying their first home valued up to 1.6 million shekels (almost $500,000).
The law has hit strong opposition, including calls to an intifada, over the fact that Arab citizens and hareidi Jews who do not serve in the IDF initially were to be excluded - now they apparently would receive the exemption for homes valued up to 950,000 shekels.
Finance Committee Chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Jewish Home) relented and allowed the residents to protest despite the ongoing discussion.
"Let the residents of the south speak! This is a shame and a disgrace," stated hareidi MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) in the meeting. "The government is silencing the residents of the south. They came from war and instead of dealing with this dangerous caprice of Yair Lapid that will endanger the Israeli economy - the government should listen to the southerners."
"Cynical usage of the south"
As the discussion gave way to the protest, Slomiansky remarked "the Finance Committee under my direction is doing all it can to help residents of the south, and after it quickly approved compensation, including advance payments already paid to businesses and residents of the Gaza Belt for 1.5 billion shekels, it will continue to hold serious debates on the topic."
The chairman added "it saddens me to see the Opposition cynically use residents of the south while taking over the committee meeting in a bullying fashion. The need to aid residents of the south is beyond political debate and requires thorough care."
Accusing the Knesset Opposition, Slomiansky charged they brought in the residents to distract the committee from the controversial VAT law, and that such a move was cynical and "embarrasses the Knesset."
Joining Slomiansky's criticism was MK Zevulun Kalfa (Jewish Home), likewise a member of the Finance Committee, who afterwards termed the protest "an embarrassing show of cynical and populist usage of southern residents that I don't think will achieve its aim."
Kalfa further claimed the incident would inflict "great damage to the image of the Knesset" and its respect.
"A law that is an ad for Lapid"
Just before the residents of the south entered the discussion, far-left MK Stav Shafir (Labor) attacked the government for not allocating enough funds to reconstructing the south, which was dealt great damage by the thousands of rockets fired by terrorists in Operation Protective Edge.
"Imagine if today the Finance Committee had gathered to discuss how to transfer the three billion shekels invested in vain in the VAT law as a multi-year emergency program to rebuild the south," Shafir said in the meeting.
The leftist MK added "the clear Zionist response to the Hamas attack is turning the south into the most attractive area for families and young people in Israel."
"Instead, the committee is gathering to save the drop in mandates of (Lapid's) Yesh Atid," charged Shafir. "The dozens of billions (of shekels) that will be invested in the coming years into a law that exists just as an ad for Lapid won't help the most urgent mission of today: rescuing the economy and the society in the south."