Adalah, Arab mayors petition Israeli Supreme Court to demand equitable budgets for Arab towns confronting COVID-19 financial damage

Adalah: Israeli government's aid policy for local municipalities doesn’t take into account distinct characteristics of Arab communities and, in fact, runs contrary to Israel’s Basic Law: State Economy.

Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court on behalf of the National Committee of the Heads of Arab Local Authorities in Israel (“the Arab Mayors Committee”) yesterday, 10 May 2020, demanding fair and equitable budgets for Arab municipalities for financial damages caused to them during the last two months of the COVID-19 crisis.


The petition, filed by Adalah Deputy General Director Attorney Sawsan Zaher against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Interior, Finance, and Environment ministries, and the Center for Local Government, calls on the Supreme Court to set equal criteria for budgeting to local authorities in a manner that takes into account the characteristics of the damage done to Arab communities during the coronavirus period, mainly due to loss of income from municipal taxes.


Existing Israeli municipality tax laws lead to budget discrimination against Arab municipalities since – in the absence of industrial zones and business complexes – the bulk of Arab municipal income comes only from residential property taxes.


The Supreme Court petition was filed against the backdrop of an ongoing strike in the Arab municipalities, which began last week (5 May) to protest the discriminatory nature of the special coronavirus-related legislation pushed through by the Israeli government.


Israeli government policies have resulted in allocations to Arab local municipalities amounting to just 1.7 percent of aid provided to all local municipalities nationwide. These policies have resulted in severe economic crises in Arab municipalities, and to a financial collapse that jeopardizes the continued provision of essential public services to residents, citizens of Israel.


Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis in March 2020, the Arab municipalities have lost about NIS 70 million (US $20 million) every month, with a total expected loss of NIS 210 million (US $60 million). Municipal expenses have, naturally, increased during this period as local authorities have worked to fight the virus.


Israel’s Basic Law: State Economy was amended on 7 April 2020 to approve a state budget during the coronavirus crisis, including a provision to allow for financial discounts in municipality tax payments. However, the government implemented it in an unequal manner by allocating aid to local councils for loss of commercial municipal taxes – which greatly benefitted Jewish Israeli towns – but did not consider the loss of residential taxes, due to rampant unemployment, which are the primary loss of income for Arab local authorities.


The petitioners argue that the determination of Israel’s taxation and budgeting criteria led to a situation of gross inequality; it is therefore unconstitutional and should be altered accordingly


Adjar Dakwar, chairman of the Fassouta Local Council and spokesperson for the National Committee of the Heads of Arab Local Authorities in Israel, issued a statement:


“Since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, the Arab local municipalities in Israel have suffered a drastic decline in their income from property taxes from residential households, a source of revenue that accounts for as much as 80 percent of their income. Alongside the decline in revenues, the local municipalities have incurred considerable expenses in confronting the crisis. Unfortunately, the Israeli government decided to leave the Arab authorities without any real assistance. Our modest request for support of some NIS 70 million a month was not seriously considered by the government, so we had no choice but to strike and then take our fight to the Supreme Court. Israel’s budget discrimination vis-a-vis Arab local municipalities intensifies in times of crisis. It is unfortunate that medical, construction, and industrial employees from our communities who head out to help fight the crisis are forced to return to neglected towns crushed by discrimination and poverty.”


Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher, who filed the Supreme Court petition, emphasized that:


“Today’s discrimination in budgeting for Arab local municipalities during the coronavirus battle is a continuation of Israel’s long-standing policy of discrimination against these communities.”


CLICK HERE to read the petition [Hebrew]


Case Citation: HCJ 2936/20, The National Committee of the Heads of Arab Local Authorites v. The Prime Minister, et. al (case pending)