MK Rabbi Gafni: I Respect High Court, It Should Respect Me Too

YERUSHALAYIM -
MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni, Chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In his response to the High Court, which is discussing a lawsuit by opposition MKs against the Third Apartment Tax law, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon on Sunday said that there was no possibility that the law would be legislated again, as the lawsuit demands and the court recommended. In a statement to the court, Kahlon said that the process would be too disruptive, and that the court had no right to ask that a law undergo legislation a second time, as that would constitute undue interference by the court on the legislative process. Besides all this, Kahlon said, the law was already having a positive influence on the housing market, and sending the law back to the Knesset Finance Committee for another round of discussions would ruin the momentum of lowered prices.

Speaking at a meeting of the Committee Monday, chairman MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni (United Torah Jewry) said that he appreciated Kahlon’s defense – but was quite upset not only at the court’s criticism of his committee’s work, but at the stance of Knesset Attorney Eyal Yinon, who agreed with the lawsuit and the court that there had been some problems with the way the committee pushed the law through for a vote on its second and third reading.

Yinon, opining on behalf of the state, “apparently does not believe that we know how to legislate laws,” MK Rabbi Gafni said during the meeting. “As a result, he has instructed his deputy to prepare a guidebook for us on how to legislate. I am saying this publicly to members of the Justice Ministry who had a hand in this response: You will not teach us how to pass laws. We have passed many laws, more than originated in any other Knesset committee. We had deep, intricate discussions on each one, and each one was adjusted substantially after those discussions.

In its ruling last week, the court said that the Third Apartment Tax law needed to be reviewed. At least four lawsuits have been filed against the law, with the Court ruling Tuesday on the one filed by opposition parties, who claimed that the tax violates the Basic Laws, the Israeli version of a constitution. It will be recalled that the third apartment tax was pushed through in a marathon all-night session in December, with a vote to approve it conducted in the early morning hours. MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni, chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee which gave its final approval to the law, said that despite his own misgivings about it, he was not planning to repeat the experience and conduct new hearings about the bill. The measure was attached to the Arrangements Law, which was approved along with the state budget.

That procedure was tainted and violated the Basic Law on governmental process, said MK Miki Rosenthal (Zionist Camp), one of the MKs who filed the petition.“The legislation of this law was conducted in a bullying and intimidating manner, and this cannot be the source of a law in this country,” he said. “We cannot allow the standing of the Knesset and the democratic process to be compromised in the manner that occurred in the passage of this law. The legislation process of this law occurred in an illegal manner, with MKs not even able to study the law in advance.”

Under the tax, which went into effect January 1st, landlords are supposed to pay a 1-percent tax per month on the assessed value of each home or apartment they own, beginning with the third property, up to a limit of NIS 1,500 per month, a total of NIS 18,000 a year. As the average value of homes in most cities is more than NIS 1.5 million, it is expected that most of the Israelis who will have to pay the tax will pay the full amount. The rule is expected to affect 50,000 people, who own a total of 180,000 homes.

“Now they go to the High Court and complain that we don’t know what we are doing,” said MK Rabbi Gafni. “They are saying the opposite of the truth. The court ought not to be frustrating us with these proclamations about our work. I respect the court, and I expect to be respected in return. If they want a fight, I know very well how to give one. I would suggest that they do not get into that kind of a struggle, and not spread such incorrect information.”