Tax collection is an intriguing area of activity in which power relations and other aspects of ideology and culture find expression. The protagonists of Likhovski’s comprehensive, insightful, and entertaining study are cabinet ministers, legislators, judges, officials, tax farmers, lawyers, accountants, economists, and taxpayers. Authors and illustrators, satirists, and even children also play a role. Employing both a top-down and a bottom-up methodology, the book focuses on income tax, a trademark of modernity, and discusses a long line of other excises and duties, including community levies. Such was the tax policy in Palestine/Israel during the first eight decades of the twentieth century, through three regimes—Ottoman, Mandate, and Israeli. In the process, the book depicts the emergence and formation of the modern individual in this country, through the prism of state–taxpayer relations. It illuminates the path followed by the individual, community, and state in the twentieth century.
The study centers on an important discovery: During the second half of the twentieth century, law and jurisprudence became an important aspect of the relationship between taxpayers and the state. Nevertheless, the young state of Israel did not rely only on the law and its administrative apparatus to collect taxes. It also adopted practices of social enforcement. The state sought to foster a system whereby citizens paid taxes not because of laws that compelled them to do so but because of a sense of duty and loyalty to their community. The result, in Likhovski’s words, was “an intimate fiscal state” (8).
The British rulers (like their Israeli successors) maintained that the collection of income tax depended on the cooperation of taxpayers. They and the state were encouraged to see taxes as benefiting both parties, creating an emotional bond between them. As such, the British at first decided not to impose an income tax in Palestine. Following the outbreak of World War II, they changed their position, instituting an income tax law in 1941. In its wake, increasing numbers of tax cases came before the courts, and a handful of attorneys specialized in this field.
During the Mandate, the Palestinian Jewish community’s self-governing institutions also collected a voluntary levy to fund their functions, including security and self-defense. The community established a collection system based on norms rather than law. Most members of the Yishuv, the Jewish settlement in Israel, viewed this community tax as a moral obligation. As such, these levies helped to construct a common national identity.
In the fourth chapter, the book’s core, Likhovski addresses taxation in Israel during the state’s early years when tax policy reflected both legacies, the legal and the voluntary. Decision makers expected the citizenry to be delighted to pay taxes to the new state, but they were soon disappointed. The reasons that Likhovski enumerates for the reluctance to pay taxes include the change in the population’s demographic make-up. New immigrants did not view themselves as citizens. As part of an effort to constitute a new civil identity, the authorities sought to educate them about the virtues of taxation.
In 1954, the Mandate tax law was amended to expand criminal sanctions for tax evasion. Extra-legal methods developed in parallel, including improvements in the collection of information about the incomes of citizens and alleviation of friction between tax officials and taxpayers. The government also used public relations and mobilization strategies to inform the public, including the use of negative social sanctions.
Beginning in the 1960s, Israel underwent social and economic change which accelerated after the right-wing Likud party came to power in 1977. The state no longer relied on an emotional bond, as exemplified by the rise in the number of professionals—accountants, lawyers, and economists—who mediated between tax authorities and citizens who wanted to avoid paying taxes. At the end of the 1960s, the courts changed their approach; instead of generally standing on the side of debtors, they began to rule in favor of the state. A comprehensive tax reform enacted in 1975 made tax affairs a closed field, for experts alone.
Likhovski’s intimate fiscal state lasted only a short time because the relationship between the individual and the community was changing. After independence, the state sought to constitute a national society, but citizens increasingly came to view themselves as sovereign subjects. For a decade or so, state and society managed to preserve some semblance of an intimate community, founded on social ties that protected individuals and provided them with a sense of belonging while also constricting personal autonomy. In the new political climate that followed the change in economic regime, individuals gained more power, and the community lost authority.