Prof. Avi Bell: From Tax Laws to Warfare – Anything but Boring

Prof. Avi Bell has never shied away from controversy. The professor in the Bar-Ilan University Faculty of Law has written on hot topics such as the infamous Goldstone Report and the implications of the Levy Commission’s report on the status of building in Judea and Samaria.


Originally from Chicago, Bell has been at Bar-Ilan since 2002 and, despite such high profile papers, he jokes that most of his work is actually on “really boring stuff” like land planning and property tax law. Hardly. For his participation in a project being run by the Kohelet Policy Forum where he is a research fellow, Bell is looking at the unique situation in Israel where, unlike anywhere else in the West, nearly all of the country’s land is owned by the state.


The question Bell asked is: when the government turns some of that land over to property developers (a key way to bring down new home sale prices), who controls what can be built there? Not the developers or the government, but the district planning board and the municipality. But the district planning boards don’t have any incentives to approve residential development, and the way property tax is currently structured, municipalities prefer commercial development like malls over residential construction. As a result, both district planning boards and local governments drag their feet when it comes to approving new residential construction. “It may sound funny, but one of the keys to lowering housing prices is actually reforming property tax and local government law,” Bell says.


Bell, who passed the bar in both Israel and New York and clerked at Israel’s Supreme Court, also wrestles with questions that even he wouldn’t call “boring.” For example, the laws of war. “If we accept the basic concept that wars should be legal but certain ways of conducting them should not be, then what are those rules?” Bell asks. He writes about the difference between hypothetical “rules on paper” and those taken in a combat situation and is concerned that Israel “tends to be judged on the basis of facts that exist only in the minds of its accusers by a theoretical standard that cannot exist in the real world.”


What is clear is that, whether writing about property tax or warfare, Avi Bell’s accomplishments are anything but theoretical.
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