Finance Minister Yair Lapid VAT tax exemption for first-home buyers faces widespread and vigorous opposition, but the most powerful opponent was named in the Knesset on Monday—Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
At the Knesset Finance Committee, MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) stated that Netanyahu had denied instructing committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky to move forward on Lapid’s bill.
Rabbi Gafni told Globes, “We (MK Gafni and UTJ MK Rabbi Yaakov Litzman) were in a long meeting today with Netanyahu, and it’s obvious to us that he opposes the plan. He told us unequivocally that he had not spoken with Nissan Slominasky about 0% VAT. He made it clear that he opposed the bill.”
In addition, the charedi MK’s said that Netanyahu promised he would not allow the bill to pass in its current form, but would insist on changes. The primary change Netanyahu agreed to make, as per the chareidim’s request, is that the benefit should be differential, meaning that it should be given on a sliding scale basis even to chareidi couples who did not serve in the army, at least for part of the amount of the cost of the apartment.
Slomiansky clarified and said that Netanyahu had not spoken with him directly on the matter, but with Minister of the Economy and Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett. However, last week at the Finance Committee meeting he said clearly that the Prime Minister had asked him to advance the bill.
Later in the day, Lapid’s party, Yesh Atid, tried to brush aside the charedi MKs’ assertions.
“The Israeli government, including the Prime Minister, voted in favor of the bill and it passed a first vote in the Knesset. The debates over the bill are advancing nicely and the bill will be approved in the near future,” a party source said.
Netanyahu has been conspicuously silent on the issue. Speculation that he opposes the Zero VAT plan has been making the rounds for some time, but this was the first public confirmation.
“It is believed that Netanyahu will let Lapid fall together with his bill,” The Jerusalem Post wrote on Tuesday. Lapid was thwarted in his attempt to get the bill passed before the summer recess; now he’s vowed to push it through when the Knesset reconvenes after its recess on October 23. But first he must clear away some 2,000 objections raised by opposition MKs.
The Prime Minister’s Office has meanwhile declined to comment.
In a lighter moment during the Finance Committee session, UTJ MK Rabbi Yisrael Eichler caused a commotion when he launched into extended remarks in Yiddish. One MK objected that “This is not an official language! Only Hebrew or Arabic!” Another broke in requesting a translation, and there was general laughter.