Is there any Jewish Law-derived imperative for the private corporate owners of the recently discovered natural gas find offshore Israel to share their profits with the State to fund social programming? I know there is a controversy about this in Israel. Any solution in Jewish Law?
I am not familiar with the terms under which those whom you’re calling the “private corporate owners” of the recently discovered natural gas find acquired their rights to drill beneath the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Israel. Presumably, they leased or purchased these rights from the Israeli government through a contract. (I can’t imagine how else they could have acquired offshore drilling rights.) Most likely, in that contract the government reserved the right to tax profits or to impose other fees on the company. If that’s the case (which I think we have to assume it is – otherwise, the company would be able to sue the Israeli government for breach of contract), then Jewish law would insist that the private corporate owners live up to their obligations under the contract and pay whatever fees that the Israeli government, consistent with its contractual rights, has imposed or will impose.
But your question raises a separate question: leaving aside the Israeli government’s legal right to collect taxes or fees from the private corporate owners, is there an imperative, a moral obligation, on the part of the corporate owners to share their profits with the state? My response is simple: How could there not be? Jewish law has long imposed a duty upon Jews to care for all others who live in our society. Throughout history, Jewish communities have imposed financial obligations on their members to support the community, and no one today would seriously question whether these are consistent with Jewish law. There is always the question, of course, whether the actual fees imposed are “fair,” but that issue would appear to be settled by the finding (reported in today’s New York Times) that the rate of taxation that the Israeli government recently voted to impose on the corporate owners is “slightly below the average of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of more than 30 countries that Israel recently joined.”
Without inquiring into the details of the legal agreement between the Israeli government and the corporate owners of the recently discovered natural gas find, it would appear that the recently reported imposition of taxes by the Israeli government is consistent with Jewish law.
Your question opens a number of potential lines of inquiry, but I suspect none of them will yield the result you seem to seek; namely, that the corporation needs to share some of its profits with the State for the purpose of funding social programming. Among the possible avenues one might consider are the State’s right to impose taxes, the Torah’s decree that one should leave the corner of the field for the poor, or a general preference within the halakha to build the Land of Israel,
The problem in all of these cases is that the obligations need to be imposed evenly. Your question suggests that the corporations doing the offshore drilling, or the individual owners of the corporation bear some special obligation, different from all others. I know of no instance within halakha where obligations are imposed in such a manner.
According to news reports I have surveyed it seems that that some politicians wish to enact a high tax rate on the gas production. It is worth noting some of the principles that stand behind the tax system as understood by halakha. Meir Tamari, in With All Your Possessions: Jewish Ethics and Economic Life, writes: “In Judaism, however, taxation was introduced as a manifestation of the concept of the rights of the community and of less fortunate individuals in the property of all the other individuals.” While that might speak for imposing a high rate of taxation with the goal of funding social programming, he also notes several limitations. Among these are: taxes may not be confiscatory and they must be equitably assessed. He also notes that goods that are considered high-risk assets may qualify for an exemption from taxation. One must also weigh whether the tax rate acts as a brake on profits and makes the business untenable.
The corporations that will drill for and market this natural gas have an obligation to be good citizens but it is not clear to me that they have a special obligation, beyond that of others, to use their profits to fund social programming. I don't find a basis for this within halakha or Jewsh ethics.
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