11:36 GMT05 July 2020
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    Israeli lawmakers have approved the prime minister’s request for retroactive tax benefits worth about 1 million shekels at a time when the nation is being hit by a crippling economic crisis.

    Benjamin Netanyahu has said that he was right to ask for a massive tax rebate, but apologised for making the request at an inappropriate time.

    The Israeli prime minister tweeted on Sunday that the decision by the Knesset Finance Committee to give him tax relief was “justified.”

    “It is correct that I should not be charged with a personal levy that has never been imposed on any other prime minister,” he wrote. “But the timing was not right, and for that I am sorry.”

    The Finance Committee this week retroactively granted tax rebates and benefits to Netanyahu for the income tax on state-covered payments and services he received as part of his job between 2009 and 2017.

    The state-covered expenses for which he requested tax relief include renovations at his private home in Caesarea and the use of a bulletproof prime ministerial car. Israeli media reported that the refunds were worth up to 1 million shekels (around $290,000), although the tax authorities would not disclose the exact sum of the benefits that were covered.

    Opposition lawmakers have slammed Netanyahu’s request as tone-deaf because it came during the coronavirus-induced economic crisis which has seen unemployment soar from 3.5 percent before the pandemic to above 20 percent. More than 300,000 Israelis are expected to run out of jobless benefits this month, according to government estimates.

    Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition Yesh Atid party, said: “The discussion was not justified because you do not deserve a million shekels from the state coffers while there are hundreds of thousands of people unemployed and many self-employed are facing collapse.”

    “However, the timing is justified because it reminds everyone how detached [from the people] you and your government are.”

    coronavirus, COVID-19, Knesset, tax, Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, Yair Lapid
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