No schools, garbage collection: Cities on strike across Israel

Mayors outraged over Finance Ministry proposal to seize property taxes and redistribute funds to poorer and peripheral cities.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Municipalities across Israel announced a general strike on Monday in response to an ongoing dispute with the Finance Ministry, with many of the largest cities in the country participating.

The cities of Tel Aviv, Beersheba, Haifa, and Rishon LeTzion were among the municipalities that shuttered their public daycare centers, schools, and libraries, stopped garbage collection, and said they would not allow the public to receive services inside their city halls.

The dramatic closures come after the failure of negotiations between the Finance Ministry and municipalities over a controversial new tax distribution measure.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich created a new policy after taking office, which would see his ministry seize property taxes collected by municipalities and transfer them into a national fund. Those funds would be redistributed to peripheral and poorer cities in Israel as part of an incentive to encourage the construction of new housing in those areas.

The mayors of many cities and towns in Israel have opposed the plan, as they argue that the property taxes collected by residents of their communities should not be used to benefit other municipalities.

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Smotrich released a statement on Monday morning indicating that he would not back down from the new policy, despite the widespread municipal strikes. He also stressed that he believes that local authorities have too much power regarding how tax funds are distributed.

“We will not give in to threats and blackmail and will act professionally for the benefit of the State of Israel and the citizens of Israel,” Smotrich said in a media conference.

“We must not surrender to extortion. We are on the way to major struggles against huge market forces that concentrate in their hands a tremendous power that we are going to take from them – [our goal] is to break up centralization and monopolies,” he said.

Haim Bibas, mayor of the city of Modiin and head of the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel, responded angrily to Smotrich’s statement.

“The only one trying to extort public money is the Finance Ministry,” he told Hebrew-language media.

“This is money intended for residents for education, welfare and infrastructure” in the cities from which the tax funds were collected, he added.

Despite the fact that Bibas and a number of other mayors participating in the strike are members of the Likud party, a coalition politician accused those opposed to the measure as coming from a left-wing political perspective.

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Interior and Health Minister Moshe Arbel (Shas) told Radio Kol BeRama that “the decision of several councils to strike today is a political decision against the government.”

Arbel framed the seizing of funds for redistribution in other municipalities as a Robin Hood-type measure, saying that “we will take from the strong and give it to the weak.”