Knesset riot:
Coalition chair tries to oust MK Smotrich from Finance Committee

Zionist Union and Jewish Home struggle against government intention to empty JNF coffers and force it to transfer funds to State.

Mordechai Sones,

Tummult in committee
Tummult in committee
Hezki Baruch

Clashes erupted today (Tuesday) in the Knesset during discussions on legislation promoted by the government obliging the JNF to transfer annual sums of money to state coffers to fund national infrastructure projects.

The move requires the Jewish National Fund to transfer 80% of its annual income to the state budget. If the JNF refuses, it will have to give up the blanket exemption from taxation it enjoys.

The Finance Ministry explains that the JNF is not fulfilling agreements according to which it will transfer NIS 2 billion to the state budget over the next two years, and therefore there is no choice but to oblige it to do so through legislation.

Legislation opponents claim that in effect the government is confiscating JNF income while subordinating the JNF to the Mandatory Tenders Law. They claim the government also determines that money in the KKL-JNF coffers goes directly to the state budget instead of to national projects.

All Knesset factions support the government position and the law it promotes apart from MKs from the Jewish Home and Zionist Union.

Coalition Chairman MK David Bitan (Likud) is trying to oust MK Bezalel Smotrich of the Jewish Home from his membership in the Finance Committee, in view of Smotrich's opposition to government actions that affect the Jewish National Fund.

Bitan sent a letter to the Chairman of Jewish Home, Shuli Mualem and wrote that "in accordance with the coalition agreement, I ask that you to replace Finance Committee Member MK Bezalel Smotrich within one hour of submission of this letter due to his opposition to an agreed coalition position."

Mualem refused to accede to Bitan's request: "The Jewish Home Party will decide who will be a member of the committee, and we will also decide what we support and what we do not. I have no intention of moving Bezalel from his position in the Finance Committee. As this was not done when we all opposed the Regulation Law after it was approved by ministerial committee, it won't happen now," she clarified.

MK Smotrich said this morning that "Kahlon is liquidating the JNF and disposing of its revenues to fund his reelection. The government of Israel tramples on agreements that it signed with the JNF in the previous budget and broadcasts that it can't be relied upon to fulfill its obligations.

"There is no logic in this grab. After KKL-JNF fulfilled its commitment and transferred NIS 2.2 billion to the state's coffers in the previous budget, the treasury's appetite grew. This law harms the JNF and uses money raised from the Jewish people throughout the generations for narrow political needs.

"I can't understand coalition member's eagerness, how they are prepared in a lightning move to give the Kulanu party billions of shekels, while dealing a fatal blow to the JNF," Smotrich added. "The KKL-JNF board of directors yesterday approved the transfer of NIS 1 billion to the state budget for 2018. The debate over another billion is for 2019, and it's not clear what the treasury is anxious to bring to the Knesset today with such urgency when it comes to the 2019 budget."

According to MK Smotrich, the distribution of the budget surplus for 2018 will be summed up in the coalition when budget discussions for 2019 begin, if it turns out that additional budgeting is needed for other purposes, it will be possible to appeal to the JNF again. This entire process is grave and unworthy and I'll do everything in my power to stop this madness."



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