Immigrants to Israel accused of cheating on taxes

Ne'eman allegedly made the comments to four senior officials at Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel.

They all stated that Ne'eman did attack immigrants.

The incident happened during last week's UJA Federations of North America General Assembly in Jerusalem when Ne'eman's aide approached the four and informed them the minister wanted a word.

The four assert that Ne'eman came up to them and said, "I'm going to go public soon. I intend to end you people cheating the Internal Revenue Service. You do not pay taxes here or in America."

AACI national vice president Don Shrensky, a CPA licensed both in Israel and in the United States, told Ne'eman his accusation was untrue.

Ne'eman then replied, "As an accountant, you aid and abet them to cheat." At that point Ne'eman walked away.

The AACI is leading a campaign against Ne'eman's tax reform plans that would bring to an end many of the breaks currently enjoyed by immigrants.

The group asserts the planned changes will lead to heavy taxing of overseas income and deter aliyah.

The tax changes have already been approved on first reading. They are currently awaiting approval by the Knesset Finance Committee. The proposed legislation would abolish a host of tax exemptions, including those on assets held overseas by immigrants.

Until now, immigrants have been allowed to keep assets abroad for 30 years tax-free, as long as the income is kept overseas. In May, that 30-year limit was abandoned, with the reform calling for the imposition of immediate taxation on overseas assets on both immigrants and native Israelis.

Senior public figures expressed shock at Ne'eman's outburst and called for negotiations on tax changes rather than a war of words. Only Bobby Brown, the prime minister's adviser for diaspora affairs, came to Ne'eman's defense.

"Ne'eman claims he did not say that and I have no reason to doubt him," said Brown. "My conversations with him have shown understanding on this issue."

On the other hand, Jewish Agency head Avraham Burg promised to investigate the matter next week. If the AACI version of events proves to be true, Burg said he will demand "more than just an apology."