In The News - May 15, 2014

Israel scores poorly in WHO air pollution assessment
The WHO's Ambient (Outdoor) Air Pollution in Cities Database examines respirable particle levels for around 1,600 cities in 91 countries.
Air pollution levels in Israel proved exceedingly high in a World Health Organization (WHO) study released on Wednesday, in which the country was ranked 22nd worst in the world.
The WHO’s Ambient (Outdoor) Air Pollution in Cities Database for 2014 examined respirable particle levels for around 1,600 cities in 91 countries, compiling concentrations of PM10 and PM2.5, meaning particles with a diameter of 10 microns and 2.5 microns or less, respectively.
(A micron is one-millionth of a meter.)
Out of the 91 countries, Israel was tied with Chile and Sri Lanka for 22nd worst in the PM10 category, the more widely measured of the two particles. Of the 16 Israeli cities included in the survey, the worst offenders were Ashkelon and Modi’in.
WHO air quality guidelines say that PM10 values should not exceed 20 micrograms per cubic meter, and that PM2.5 values should not exceed 10 micrograms. (A microgram is one-millionth of a gram.) Accordingly, only about 12 percent of the world’s city dwellers live in places that meet these standards.
“Too many urban centers today are so enveloped in dirty air that their skylines are invisible,” said Dr. Flavia Bustreo, WHO assistant director- general for family, children and women’s health. “Not surprisingly, this air is dangerous to breathe. So a growing number of cities and communities worldwide are striving to better meet the needs of their residents – in particular children and the elderly.”
The mean annual level for PM10 concentrations around the world for the years 2008 through 2012 was 71 micrograms per cubic meter.
Exact PM2.5 values are slightly more complicated to determine because lower- and middle-income countries are not yet widely monitoring them directly; therefore, PM10 measurements must be converted to PM2.5 values for these places.
The highest levels of PM10 were measured in the eastern Mediterranean region, followed by southeast Asia.
Average mean PM10 and PM2.5 levels for the United Kingdom were 21 micrograms and 14 micrograms per cubic meter, respectively. For the United States they were 20 micrograms and 12 micrograms, respectively.
Israel’s annual mean level of PM10 nationwide was 64 micrograms per cubic meter – more than three times the accepted WHO standard. For PM2.5 it was 23 micrograms – more than two times the accepted standard. The data was provided by the Environmental Protection Ministry.
The highest offender in the PM10 category was Pakistan, at 282 micrograms per cubic meter, followed by Afghanistan, Bahrain, Senegal, Qatar, Bangladesh, UAE, Mongolia, Egypt, India, Jordan, Iran, Nepal, Ghana, China, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Mexico, Mauritius, Myanmar and Vietnam, and then Israel, Chile and Sri Lanka.
For PM2.5 rankings, Israel’s placement was slightly better, tying for 40th worst country with Tanzania, Cyprus, South Korea and the Philippines.
Pakistan was worst on this list as well, with 101 micrograms per cubic meter.
Looking at Israel cities individually, the annual mean PM10 levels in Ashkelon and Modi’in in 2010 were 74 micrograms and 70 micrograms per cubic meter. Air pollution monitoring stations in Beersheba, Beit Shemesh and Kibbutz Erez featured levels of 68 micrograms; in Tel Aviv 67 micrograms; in Karmei Yosef 66 micrograms; in Rehovot 63 micrograms; and in Ashdod 62 micrograms per cubic meter. Hadera and Haifa were significantly lower, with levels of 46 and 45 micrograms per cubic meter, respectively.
As for PM2.5 particles, Modi’in had the highest annual mean concentration in 2010, with 46 micrograms per cubic meter, followed by Beersheba and Beit Shemesh, at 45 micrograms, and Rehovot, at 42 micrograms. In Hadera it was 25 micrograms, while both Haifa and Ashdod had 22 micrograms per cubic meter.
In response to the WHO report, the Environmental Protection Ministry said that it has been taking comprehensive action in curbing air pollution levels in Israel, mandating emissions reductions in the transportation and industrial sectors, and promoting energy efficiency across the country.
It said that Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz had informed the Israel Electric Corporation that its power plants would not be granted emissions permits if it followed through with a recommendation by the recent Yogev Commission report to remove chimney filtration devices.
“The Environmental Protection Ministry passed this year a national plan to fight air pollution, and under the framework of upcoming budgeting discussions, the ministry will demand a substantial increase in the budget for the fight against air pollution,” a statement from the ministry said.
Dr. Arye Wenger, head of the air and energy department at Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense), said he and his colleagues were not surprised to see the WHO survey results.
“For many years we have warned that air pollution is not a temporary or local problem, but a state calamity that requires a solution at a national level,” Wenger said.
He added that tools to reduce air pollution in Israel were under-utilized due to budgetary choices that prioritized activities such as building roads rather than promoting efficient public transportation. 
By Sharon Udasin, The Jerusalem Post, Thursday, May 8 2014

Bank of Israel tightens screws on mortgage borrowers again
New rules block investors from buying properties by using their adult children as buyers.
People buying homes as an investment will no longer be able to get mortgage terms comparable to those provided to first-time home buyers, after the Bank of Israel moved to close a loophole that had enabled investors to buy property in their children’s names.
The new rule, which was issued last week by Banks Supervisor David Zaken, comes after an earlier effort at clamping down on property speculation failed to achieve its aims. Last October, Zaken ruled that investors — defined as those who already own at least one piece of residential property — would not be allowed to take out a mortgage to finance more than half of the price of the property they are acquiring. By contrast, those buying a primary residence can continue to get mortgage financing of up to 75%.
But banking sources said that in practice, the rule had been rendered toothless because investors began registering the investment properties they were buying in their adult children’s names and have them apply for the mortgage. In order to meet the rules requiring that mortgage repayments not exceed half of a borrower’s monthly income, the children would list their parents as additional lenders. In many instances it was clear that the buyer did not have income sufficient to meet the mortgage payments and that the parents were subsidizing them.
Now, for purposes of gauging whether the buyer has income equivalent to double the mortgage payment, Zaken has ordered that the contribution of parents be limited to half of their disposable income.
The latest rule comes as the central bank tries to cool off the overheated real estate market. Officials are concerned that rising home prices and growing mortgage debt could lead to a national crisis if economic growth slows and unemployment rises, leaving people with loans they can’t repay. The bank has been steadily toughening the terms for taking out mortgages, although they have had little effect on either prices or borrowing.
On Sunday, however, the Bank of Israel reported some progress in reducing homeowner leveraging. It said that homeowners were paying less of their income on their monthly mortgage payments in March than they had been about a year earlier. The average March payment represented 27.3% of the borrower’s income, compared with 30.2% a year earlier.
It attributed the drop to the tougher borrowing terms Zaken imposed last November requiring that borrowers have income equivalent to at least double their monthly payment. In cases in which the borrower’s income is between 40% and 50% of the mortgage payment, banks are also required to have addition capital to protect against the risk of the borrower’s defaulting.
As a result, the volume of mortgages falling within the 40% to 50% income range fell from 393 million shekels ($113.6 million) in March of last year to a low of 139 million shekels in March this year. Some of that drop is artificial, however, to the extent that increasingly parents’ income had been included in the monthly income for purposes of the calculation. That may change due to Zaken’s crackdown on the loophole, but a banking source said it would have only marginal impact on lending.
Mortgage banks will now also require parents helping their adult children buy a home to issue a standing order from their bank for at least a quarter of the monthly mortgage payment in cases in which the parents are providing half of the recognized income. This will mainly affect poorer borrowers, banking sources said, particularly home buyers in the ultra-Orthodox community, where it is common practice for parents to be formally added to mortgages to meet the minimum-income requirement.
Although there may be some who try to get around the requirement by having the child issue a standing bank order to the parents for the same monthly amount, banking sources said the tougher rules will make the parents’ obligation more concrete and may make them think twice before attaching their name to their children’s mortgages. The banking sources said the new rule may also make it difficult for others in lower-income brackets to buy a home.
By Sivan Aizescu, Ha'aretz, May 4, 2014 

Americans in Israel urged to resist new U.S. oversight of their bank information
Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel says U.S. legislation making Americans' lives a nightmare.
A prominent Israeli immigrant organization is urging Americans in Israel to protest new United States regulations that require financial institutions here and globally to reveal certain information about their accounts to U.S. tax authorities.
“The legislation — designed to catch tax cheats — has turned the lives of hard-working Americans living abroad into nightmares,” warned Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel national president Asa Cohen in an email Tuesday urging its estimated 35,000 members to contact members of Congress.
Yesterday, the Bank of Israel announced a framework for a bilateral agreement between Israel and the U.S. that would provide for a liberalized implementation of FATCA — the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act — in general and for noncompliant bank customers in particular. Complete terms of the tax treaty were not immediately disclosed.
In March, the Bank of Israel advised Israeli banks to begin gearing up to provide information. As Haaretz has reported, Israeli banks have been warning American customers for several years that their Israeli accounts would be frozen unless they report their bank accounts to the U.S. tax authorities.
“Because complying with FATCA is costly for banks — including those in Israel — many are refusing to open any new accounts for U.S. citizens,” wrote Cohen in the email, listing a litany of problems the tax legislation, first passed in 2010, has triggered.
“There have been reports of banks asking customers with a U.S. Passport or U.S. Green Card to provide proof they are compliant with current U.S. foreign account disclosure requirements,” Cohen alleged. “Some banks have even gone so far as to ask customers to close their existing accounts. There have even been instances where Americans living abroad have been refused local mortgages, pension plans and life insurance policies.”
Don Shrensky of Aboulafia Avital Shrensky & Co., an Israeli firm specializing in both U.S. and Israeli tax planning and compliance, has for many years assailed demands by some Israeli banks that customers submit a copy of their U.S. tax returns and waive their rights to privacy.
“Under FATCA, the Israeli bank has no obligation to ensure the customer is complying with U.S. income tax and bank secrecy laws,” Shrensky told Haaretz. “The banks only have an obligation to identify their client as a U.S. person and to report to the United States government information about the account in Israel, such as the balance of the account.”
Asked to comment on Cohen’s allegations about Israeli financial institutions, Ofra Preuss, a spokesperson for Bank Hapoalim, told Haaretz in a statement, “The Bank’s policy has been, and continues to be, to comply in full with all the requirements of FATCA. The Bank will not be able to serve American customers who do not adhere to said requirements.”
By Mordechai I. Twersky, Ha'aretz, May 2, 2014

AACI Jerusalem – Parking in Hadar Mall
In case you don't know:  People with a Senior Citizens card   can park for free at Kanyon Hadar.  The person needs to go to the parking office on the lower level (across from the cleaners) and present his/her card and give the car license plate number.  They put that in their computer and after that the gates open automatically when you enter and leave the parking lot.

Olim to face less bureaucracy when converting foreign drivers’ licenses
Knesset receives confirmation that Transportation Ministry has officially approved new regulations in first week of May.
New immigrants to Israel will now face fewer stumbling blocks when converting their foreign drivers’ licenses to Israeli ones, MK Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid) announced on Monday.
“Over the last few months I have received many complaints from olim having difficulties switching their licenses after driving decades in Western countries,” Lipman said. “The regulations made no sense.”
New immigrants to Israel have up to three years to take a “control test” – an abbreviated road test to demonstrate control over the vehicle, according to a Transportation Ministry description of the test. The immigrants are permitted, however, to drive in Israel on their foreign drivers’ licenses alone for their first year in the country.
Previously, if immigrants failed the control test twice, they were required to take full theory and practical driving exams.
According to the new regulations, if an immigrant fails two control tests, he or she will only be required to take the full practical driving exam, without the theory exam.
Meanwhile, immigrants who enlisted in the IDF will have more than the allotted three years to complete the conversion process, providing they display a certificate of service to the Licensing Authority, the regulations say.
The Knesset received confirmation that the Transportation Ministry had officially approved the new regulations in the first week of May.
Lipman called for a meeting with the Absorption and Immigration Committee meeting, chaired by MK Yoel Razbozov (Yesh Atid), in November, during which he addressed Transportation Ministry officials about ongoing hurdles olim face when converting their licenses.
First and foremost, Lipman said he felt that the rule allowing olim to drive in Israel for a year without exchanging their licenses is no less than “ridiculous.”
If they are allowed to drive for that year without an Israeli license, then they clearly do not present a danger to the roads, he argued.
In addition, he told ministry officials that the demand to take a theory test upon failing two control tests was unfair, and presented an obstacle that many olim were unable to overcome.
Upon receiving word that the Transportation Ministry had canceled the necessity for the theory test and allowed for soldiers to convert their licenses beyond the three-year window, Lipman said that he is “proud of these two achievements.”
“It will make a difference in the life of olim who have been struggling with senseless bureaucracy,” he said.
Razbozov thanked Lipman for raising the issue, as well as the Transportation Ministry for following through with the committee’s recommendations.
“We need to remember that even though some of the olim might be new, they are very experienced drivers that have a hard time navigating the bureaucracy,” Razbozov said.
“This decision will benefit these olim, and allow them to be more successful and independent.”
By Sharon Udasin, The Jerusalem Post, May 12, 2014


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