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August 24, 2016 / 20 Av, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Finance Minister’

Finance and Justice Ministries to Crack Down on Gambling

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

By Michael Zeff/TPS

Jerusalem (TPS) – Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Justice Ministry Director General Emi Palmor announced at a joint press conference on Wednesday evening that gambling machines and horse racing are to be outlawed in Israel.

“Israel’s weakest and poorest are being sold illusions and false hopes every day,” said Minister Kahlon. “As of next year, there will not be a single gambling machine or any horse racing in Israel.”

There are currently some legal forms of gambling permitted in Israel though most are outlawed. The only authorities licensed to provide gambling services are Mifal HaPayis, which operates the Israeli national lottery, and the Sports Betting Council, which manages betting on various sports events. The gambling machines belong to the lottery while horse-race betting is run through the Sports Betting Council.

The announcement was made after a report published on Wednesday by the Commission on Gambling Regulations, a joint think-tank headed by the directors general of the two ministries.

The commission’s recommendations include a limit on the size of the legal gambling sector, a prohibition on operating games with an addictive nature, a tax raise on money earned through gambling, and various other limitations.

The report expects the implementation of its recommendations to drastically curb the growth of the gambling sector in Israel and thus decrease its influence on the Israeli population.

Minister Kahlon announced that he would adopt and implement the recommendations to their full extent.

“It is no coincidence that these gambling machines are found mostly in poor neighborhoods. It is also not a coincidence that we see a sharp rise in lottery revenue the day after welfare checks are sent out every month,” Kahlon explained.

The report claims that while a certain percentage of the gambling revenue accrued by these authorities is meant to go to charity and to state education and welfare projects, only a small amount actually does.

The report further states that there will be a reduction in the operating costs of the Sports Betting Council and the lottery, such as in advertising and sales commissions, thus increasing the state’s share of the revenue.

“Unregulated gambling exclusively and deliberately targets and hurts the country’s weakest communities so as long as I am finance minister, there will be no casinos in Israel,” concluded Kahlon.

TPS / Tazpit News Agency

Bill Approved to Increase Competition in Israeli Financial Sector

Monday, August 1st, 2016

By Michael Zeff/TPS

Jerusalem (TPS) – The Israeli government unanimously approved legislation to increase competition in the Israeli financial sector on Sunday.

According to a Finance Ministry spokesperson, the legislation aims to shatter the current banking sector oligopoly by allowing new players to enter the financial and banking sector thus increasing market competition.

“The problem with Israeli banks is that they all suffer from a lack of efficiency in costs, which is necessarily rolled on to the consumers of their financial services,” Professor Omer Moav, an economics expert at the University of Warwick, told Tazpit Press Service (TPS). “Competition can help that. Allowing foreign banks to offer services, even through the Internet for example, will decrease costs and increase efficiency.”

The bill was proposed by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and is an implementation of recommendations made by the Committee on Increasing Competitiveness in the Economy. The committee was formed by Minister Kahlon and the Central Bank of Israel (CBI) in order to find legal ways to increase competitiveness and efficacy in the otherwise concentrated and cartelized Israeli banking system.

“The changes mandated by this law, mainly the recommendation to separate the banks from the credit companies, will create an advanced banking system and more competitiveness in the retail and small business fields in the upcoming years,” said CBI Governor Karnit Flug.

The main clauses of the bill include a separation of the major Israeli banks from Israeli credit companies. The three largest Israeli banks also currently own and operate the credit card companies.

The three banks, Hapoalim, Leumi, and Discount, together control about 75% of credit in Israel. The new law will force Hapoalim and Leumi at the least to sell their existing credit card companies.

In addition the new law will provide certain protections and incentives for potential new actors to enter the Israeli market, such as more flexible regulations to help them compete with the major banks.

“The bill also includes a pathway to the establishment of entirely new Israeli banks, better oversight on existing banks and on their competitiveness, the creation of new and improved databases for credit card companies, and the advancement of technology and innovation in local banks,” Governor Flug elaborated.

However, the measures proposed by the bill have been previously criticized by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of which Israel is a member.

According to the IMF, the government committee that provided recommendations for the bill used old data in its analysis thus rendering the basis of the reform faulty and potentially harming the stability of the entire system.

While Flug and the CBI supported the bill and helped shape it to a large extent, Flug cautioned the government to implement the law responsibly. “An increase in the number of banks and financial brokers that are not banks means a higher risk of collapse,” she contended.

TPS / Tazpit News Agency

Knesset Committee Approves Submission to US IRS Tax Compliance Act

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

After weeks of debates, on Monday the Knesset Finance Committee approved a bill to apply the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which the US has already signed with 113 countries. The 2010 federal law enforces the requirement for US citizens living abroad to file yearly reports on their non-US financial accounts to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN). The law also requires all foreign financial institutions (FFIs) to search their records and to report the assets of US citizens living abroad to the US Department of the Treasury.

Finance Committee Chairman MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) was able, after lengthy negotiations with the Israeli Finance Ministry, to increase the protection of Israeli citizens whose information will be handed over to the US, and reduce in half (from about $27 thousand to about $13 thousand) the sanctions against financial institutions that fail to comply with new law for technical reasons. Gafni also managed to change the definition of charity organizations in the Haredi community (Gmachim), changing their definition from “financial institutions” to “organizations that benefit the public,” thus removing them from the FATCA zone.

The committee also succeeded in repelling the Israeli tax authority, which wanted initially to be able to use information gathered by Israeli banks for FATCA to their own local tax collection ends. As Gafni put it, “This is a bad law, and to come now and use it for other purposes that have nothing to do with its essence would be unthinkable.”

The issue of forcing foreign financial institutions and foreign governments to collect data on US citizens at their own expense and transmit it to the IRS has been attacked outside Israel as well. Former Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty objected to the law’s “far-reaching and extraterritorial implications” which require Canadian banks to become extensions of the IRS and could jeopardize Canadians’ privacy rights.

There have also been reports of many foreign banks refusing to open accounts for Americans, making it harder for Americans to live and work abroad.

JNi.Media

Knesset Committee Slams Finance Minister on Fear of Fighting Monopolies

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

“Five years have passed, and prices have not gone down, and in certain cases they have gone up,” members of the Knesset Finance Committee told government representatives during Monday’s meeting marking five years since the summer of 2011 popular social protest in Israel.

The committee members slammed Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon for “being afraid to fight the monopolies,” but members of Kahlon’s Kulanu party said in response, “We are advancing many reforms, and we can already see the results on the ground.”

Finance Committee Chairman MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) said that “with all due respect to the Finance Ministry and talks of reform, in practice the prices have not gone down.”

MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) said, “Five years after the ‘cottage cheese’ protest, not only have the prices not gone down, in real terms they have increased, because the prices of commodities around the world have dropped 30-50%, and this is not being reflected in the Israeli market. Prices are 20% higher, on average, than in Europe. The prices of inputs have also decreased, as has the price of gas and energy, but this has not had any effect. What happened is that the monopolies and chain stores have gained huge profits at the consumers’ expense.”

MK Manuel Trajtenberg (Zionist Camp) explained that “the expense basket of a young family has three main components: housing, education and food. In housing the prices have only gone up; in education there has been some progress regarding ages 3-4, but not a week goes by that we are not asked to answer questions regarding family expenses related to education. An average family with three children spends some $1,300 a month on education, day care, afternoon child care, camps, and more. As far as food is concerned, some positive steps have been taken, but that nut has not been cracked and, ultimately, too much power has been left in the hands of a small number of companies.”

MK Yitzhak Vaknin (Shas) charged that the Trajtenberg Committee, which examined and proposed solutions to Israel’s socioeconomic problems, was established only to “ease tensions” and “take the wind out of the social protest’s sails.” In practice, he said, “nothing has been done.” Vaknin called to restore price controls, saying “in the absence of competition, this is the solution.”

MK Oren Hazan (Likud) said the problem is “greed.” The chain store owners and the major wholesalers “earn tens of millions on the public’s back,” he stated. “And meanwhile, here in the Knesset, people are strong at talking. The finance minister can make bold decisions and change the market without fearing his friends the tycoons. Here in this committee we have the power to advance a plan to dissolve the monopolies. We will enact a law to that effect.”

MK Roy Folkman of Kulanu said, “We have waged an all-out war on the monopolies. In Israel there is a very high concentration of market controls, and a finance minister who does not fear them has now arrived. We launched reforms in the importing of fresh meat and the prices have dropped. With fish as well, we created parallel importing. For years no one has dared to deal with the monopolies, which maintain a stronghold on Israeli politics, and we have started doing so. A change can already be seen in toiletries, food items, children’s toys and other items. The fight takes courage and ability. Increasing competition is the only way. Price control does not work; [corporations] would only raise the prices of other items. The business sector is more sophisticated than the regulator.”

MK Rachel Azaria, also from Kulanu, said “We are making great efforts, but every issue that reaches the Knesset gets stuck there. Every reform encounters objections, and it is nearly impossible to pass anything, including the fight against black market capital. I belong to the finance minister’s faction and it is my job to pass things, but nothing can be advanced; there are always dramas here; in some cases it’s the kibbutzim, in others kashrut – everybody has an interest. We have to be brave and deal with the basic problems: monopolies, quotas and interested bodies that prevent change. In the Arrangements Law we will introduce important reforms, and then we will see if all those who are yelling here will support them. We are the cause of the high prices. We have an opportunity to lower the cost of living, and I hope everyone here will support [the measures].”

JNi.Media

Israel ‘Shocked and Horrified’ at Orlando Massacre, But Life Must Go On

Monday, June 13th, 2016

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was speaking on behalf of the entire nation at the opening of the cabinet meeting on Monday when he offered condolences to the United States over the Orlando massacre.

The attack carried out by an ISIS terrorist at an Orlando night club in the wee hours of Sunday morning left 50 people dead and another 53 wounded, plus countless others deeply traumatized in the Florida city where Disney, among others, feel at home on the East Coast.

“We are all shocked at the horrific massacre in Orlando,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly government cabinet meeting.

“On behalf of the government and people of Israel, I would like to again express our condolences to the American people and the families at this especially difficult hour.

“This terror threatens the entire world and it is necessary – first of all – that the enlightened countries urgently unite to fight it. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the American people,” he said.

The prime minister then went on to discuss the economic improvements being considered by the government – including the separation of credit companies from the major Israeli banks.

“Competition in the banking sector will ease the credit situation for small and medium business,” he said. “And separation between the major banks and credit card companies is the start of a comprehensive reform that will be good for all Israelis.”

Hana Levi Julian

New Defense Minister Facing Challenges Within and Without

Friday, May 27th, 2016

The State Dept. deputy spokesperson Mark C. Toner on Thursday reiterated verbatim his statement from the day before about the fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) had chosen to bolster his coalition government by inviting MK Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu) to serve as his defense minister. Toner said, “We’ve seen the agreement that has been reached to expand the coalition. We also know that this is the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history.” He knows this because, he said, “We’ve seen – or we know that many of its ministers have said they oppose a two-state solution. And what I said yesterday is the same as what I’m going to say today: this raises legitimate questions about the direction that the new Israeli Government may be headed in, and what kind of policies it’s going to adopt. We’re going to judge this government by the course it charts and the actions it takes going forward, but yes, we are concerned.”

It isn’t clear from the statement whether Toner is aware of the fact that the reason the current Netanyahu government is “the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history” has to do with the fact that Israel’s voters have been voting rightwing parties in at an increasing rate, and the fact that so many government ministers oppose the 2-state solution has to do with the fact that the majority of Israelis oppose it. Just like, incidentally, the majority of Arabs do as well. But the attacks on Liberman’s appointment are coming not just from Washington, DC, but from inside the Netanyahu government.

The coalition agreement Netanyahu and Lieberman signed on Wednesday included a commitment to promote a new amendment to the Basic Laws, Israel’s closest thing to a constitution, which would limit the ability of the Supreme Court to overturn Knesset laws. The amendment would require a majority of 8 out of the 15 justices to overturn a law.

On its face, this is not a bad idea. In the loose and soft boundaries between the branches of government in Israel, the Supreme Court has become so activist, it has practically begun to legislate, by trimming and cutting laws based on petitions from individuals as well as from Knesset opposition factions. It should be noted that in Israel a petitioner need not prove a direct and personal injury from a given law, it’s sufficient that they object to it. And so we’ve seen recently how the Knesset opposition factions which lost the vote on the off-shore gas deal took the law to the high court, which killed it on its face, and then recommended which precise changes in the law would help it pass the court’s approval. In short, the high court added its vote to the opposition to defeat an elected prime minister. That’s bad enough as it is, but the fact that the panel judges dealing with these petitions don’t even require the approval of a majority of the court is about as anti-democratic as they come.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) did not see it that way, and on Wednesday night announced that he would veto any attempt on the part of Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu to limit the power of the Supreme Court. “So as not to keep you guessing, I’m telling you in advance — this will not happen,” Kahlon tweeted in response to the new coalition agreement.

Kahlon is desperate to appear as if he matters in the Netanyahu government. His popularity has been sinking, while the clout of his rival in the center of the map, Yair Lapid, has been soaring. In a political environment where the Supreme Court is the only means by which the Tel-Aviv elite has been able to force its will on the rightwing majority in Israel, distinguishing himself as the gallant defender of the court couldn’t hurt Kahlon’s creds, whether the point he’s making is reasonable or not.

Then, on Friday morning, another Kulanu politician, Environment Minister Avi Gabbay, announced his resignation on account of the Lieberman appointment. Gabbay, who is not an MK, and whose ministerial appointment was Kahlon’s choice, said in a statement, “Despite the great importance I see in [my] ministry and in our significant activities to reduce air pollution and in many other areas, the recent political moves and the replacement of the defense minister are in my view a grave act that ignores what’s important to the security of the state and will cause another escalation and the tearing up of the nation.”

So Lieberman should expect more attempts to torpedo his decisions in his new role from the left side of the Netanyahu coalition, which, with its 10 seats, could topple the government and bring on new elections whenever it wishes. Lieberman should also anticipate some friction with the Haredi parties, which are facing a decree from the Supreme Court to accept Reform and Conservative conversions, and would be likely pushing new legislation to bypass the court — legislation Lieberman may not necessarily embrace.

Finally, there are the Arabs. The four rockets that were shot at Israel by the Salafist group Omar Al Hadidi Battalions, and the feeble retaliation by the Israeli air force, illustrated the complexity of the realities inside the Gaza Strip — realities that cannot at the moment be solved with the new defense minister’s much quoted calls to just going in and taking it over. For the moment, both Hamas and Israel are interested in maintaining the quiet. But the Salafists want to heat up the front — they steal those rockets from Hamas storage and shoot them at Israel to encourage a retaliation that would bring an escalation. They’ve missed every time they’ve shot so far, but all they have to do is hit once, kill or injure a civilian inside Israel, and watch the flames that would surely follow.

The Salafists are invested in provoking the Hamas government into military action, with posters that show Hamas as the jailers who serve Israel, the warden. They’ll continue to do everything in their power to rile up a defeated, depressed Arab population. Which is why the right Israeli move at this point is containment—unless Israel wishes to fight the next war on the enemy’s terms. This is why the retaliation Wednesday night was only against two targets, one of them a Hamas naval commando training facility which the IDF has wanted to take out for some time. Despite his reputation and the irrational reactions he seems to generate in DC and across the aisle at home, Lieberman will not, for now, change the containment policy, mostly because it serves Israel’s needs.

JNi.Media

Analysis: An Afternoon of Hard Maneuvering May Yield New Defense Minister and 67-Member Rightwing Coalition

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

Israeli media reported Wednesday evening that MK Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu) has accepted the Prime Minister’s invitation to join his government and receive the portfolios of Defense and Immigrant Absorption — which is a nice package considering Liebrman is only adding six seats to the coalition.

But what a difference six seats make. With the budget vote coming up this Summer Session, Netanyahu will be able to breathe easy. Last session, three rogue members of his Likud faction chose to abstain from voting just to make a point, which helped derail some government legislation, awarding undeserved wins to the opposition. With 67 members, the fourth Netanyahu government can live out its entire four-year term.

Also, unlike the earlier potential coalition partner, Isaac Herzog’s left-leaning Zionist Camp, Lieberman is a natural fit in the current government. When he ended his 90 minute private meeting with the PM (which followed the PM’s meeting with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, where the latter was given his walking papers), most of Likud’s senior ministers were quick to congratulate and welcome him back into the fold. Liebrman really is no stranger to Likudniks — from 1993 to 1996, with Netanyahu in place as party chairman, Lieberman served as the Likud party’s director-general. When Netanyahu was elected to his first term as prime minister, Lieberman served as director-general of the prime minister’s office, the equivalent of the White House chief of staff, from 1996 to 1997. With a few noted exceptions, Lieberman has been to the right of Netanyahu, and left his side to start Yisrael Beiteinu in 1999 over concessions Netanyahu granted the Palestinians in the 1997 Wye River Memorandum. But these days there’s very little daylight between Lieberman and the majority of the Likud Knesset faction.

In addition to Netanyahu’s need for coalition stability, the other issue behind Wednesday’s dramatic change was the growing gap between Defense Minister Ya’alon and the rest of the Likud party, which could have put Netanyahu’s future in danger had he continued to be associated with his DM. In several key episodes in the country’s fractious confrontations with Arab terrorists, Ya’alon appeared to be going out of his way to drag the Netanyahu government to the left.

Last Purim, an IDF medic in Hebron shot and killed a terrorist who had already been neutralized by six bullets to his body. The soldier’s commanders on the ground planned to give him a disciplinary hearing at the time, but an Arab B’Tselem agent shot and released a video of the event, and shortly thereafter military police picked up the medic on murder charges. Ya’alon supported the MP and the military prosecutors, despite an unprecedented wave of protest against the IDF brass that frightened Netanyahu. The PM met with the Medic’s father, the charges were reduced to manslaughter and the case may yet be dismissed, but the PM felt that his DM had stuck him in an untenable spot with the Likud diehard rightwing voters.

Then came the notorious Holocaust Memorial Day speech of the IDF deputy chief of staff, who compared, albeit not directly, episodes such as the Hebron shooting of the terrorist to the rise of Nazism in 1930s Germany. Again, Netanyahu’s core voters were outraged. He ordered his DM to extract and apology from the general, but the IDF would not apologize, and denied the charges instead.

Finally, there were the terrorists’ bodies. On several occasions, Netanyahu opposed returning the bodies of killed terrorists to their families for burial without some cost, the least of which would be to let them wait a few days, or weeks, as a deterrence to others. In early May, against Netanyahu’s explicit request, Ya’alon ordered the return of the body of a terrorist who had been killed after attacking and wounding three IDF soldiers, one critically, with his car. Then the IDF said something preachy about having no interest in detaining the bodies, ostensibly as political chips.Netanyahu was livid. Anyone who was following those events and understood the growing resentment in Likud against Ya’alon, could see that his days at the helm were numbered.

It isn’t clear whether Netanyahu was very smart or just very lucky when he allowed himself to be talked by his finance minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) into inviting MK Isaac Herzog to join his coalition government. On its face the move looked crazy if not stupid: for one thing, it wasn’t at all certain that more than half of the Zionist Camp MKs would make the switch over, seeing as they view Netanyahu as the poison tree that must be uprooted, not the shade tree for their top members to sit on lucrative portfolios. So the most Bibi would have gotten were 15 or 16 new MKs, but at the cost of Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi 8 seats, which would have netted him only 7 or 8 additional seats — but would have alienated his rightwing voters. So why did he embark on this apparent fool’s errand? Like we said, either because he is frighteningly clever or frighteningly lucky.

Avigdor Liebrman’s mission from the first day of the 20th Knesset has been to topple Netanyahu’s government and come back after the next elections as the most viable rightwing leader. This is why he refused Netanyahu’s repeated courting in the spring of 2015, and continued to bide his time in the opposition, together with Arabs and leftists, the people he dislikes the most—waiting for his chance. He figured, when the time came, with a big enough issue, and with Bibi’s rogue MKs doing their bit, Lieberman could deliver the deadly blow to Netanyahu, with a resounding vote of no confidence.

But when it started to look as if the Zionist Camp was going to boost Bibi’s numbers beyond the point of toppling, Lieberman realized it was time to shelf his revenge plan and get inside the tent before he’d lose any hope of leaving an impression on his voters this term. And so, seemingly out of the blue, Lieberman gathered a press conference in the afternoon, even as Bibi was scolding Bogie (Lauren Bacall’s nickname for Humphrey Bogart which somehow stuck with Ya’alon during his long and decorated military service) — and the Russian refusnik of yesterday suddenly started to play a serenade to Bibi on his balalaika. For the right price—defense and absorption, and the right terms—the death penalty for terrorists, for instance, he and his Yisrael Beiteinu are definitely ready to jump in.

Netanyahu may have been clever or lucky, but Lieberman was, without a doubt, brilliant. He may appear from this day on as serving Netanyahu, but it will be the PM who’ll be forced to do his bidding on security, because it is Lieberman and not Netanyahu who speaks for the rightwing Likud voters. If Bibi flinches at one of Lieberman’s calls (which the latter will issue politely and calmly) — then Bibi’s voters could easily go for the alternative. Say what you will about Avigdor Lieberman, but he could teach a class on maneuvering to a school of sharks.

As a result of all of the above, and should the coalition talks between Bibi Netanyahu and Yvette Lieberman be successful, Israel will have its first truly rightwing government ever. The Haredim are concerned about the draft, but it’s doubtful the new DM will focus on that hornet’s nest at this stage of his new career. If he does, it would bring a quick and unhappy ending to the 20th Knesset.

The one remaining unknown at this point is Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who really wanted to bring the Zionist Camp into the government and is now stuck to the left of Netanyahu, and with polls that show his Kulanu party dropping from 10 to 7 seats come next elections, while his identical twin, Lapid, is projected to win 19 or 20 seats next time around. Kahlon could kill this latest coalition deal in a kamikaze departure followed by resounding vote of no confidence, at which point nothing could save Bibi’s fourth government.

Oh, what interesting times we’re having.

David Israel

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/analysis-an-afternoon-of-hard-maneuvering-may-yield-new-defense-minister-and-67-member-rightwing-coalition/2016/05/18/

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