Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) on Monday said he opposed using state funds to support the political arm of the settlement movement, the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
“The council is clearly a political body.
It does not seem to me that it is possible to transfer [state] money to them when they oppose the government’s policies,” Lapid said.
“From the day I took office, I said we have a clear policy with respect to the settlements,” he said.
Lapid explained that the state should fulfill its financial obligations to the settlers, who should receive everything owed them as citizens of the State of Israel.
But, he said, he did not believe that state funds should be sent to a body that was separate from the local and regional settler councils.
On Saturday night, Lapid temporally suspended the transfer
of all state funds to the local and regional settler councils pending an internal ministry report, due at the end of the week, on how the money had been spent.
The move came after Channel 2 published a story on Friday about the NIS 148 million that the Finance Ministry had transferred to local and regional settler councils. These funds were meant to compensate them for monetary losses they incurred during the 10 month moratorium on new housing starts in Judea and Samaria, which began in November 2009, and ended in September 2010.
The Channel 2 reported alleged that although the funds were earmarked for security and education, 80 percent of the money had gone to the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria for political purposes. It based its information on a report by Molad, the Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy.
But Lapid’s comments on Monday indicated that his concern was much broader than the charges of misappropriation of funds.
Labor MK Eitan Cabel on Sunday wrote a letter to the state comptroller and asked that he investigate the matter.
He too, took issue with the use of tax-payers money to fund the political arm of the settlement movement.
“This is an absurd situation whereby tax payers’ money from the government is used to finance a campaign against the government,” Cable said.
He said that the issue of public financing of an anti-government group was first raised in 2004, when the council was engaged in a stiff battle against the Gaza withdrawal.
In 2006, the High Court of Justice ruled against a Peace Now petition and determined that money from local property taxes could be used for the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
The council’s deputy head Yigal Delmonti said the Channel 2 story and the Molad report were simply not true.
The council’s annual budget is in the order of NIS 12m., he said and did not come close to the sums indicated in the story. Roughly speaking, he said, its budget for the last four years was less than NIS 50m., a far cry from the NIS 100m. that Channel 2 said it had received.
The council is a registered non-governmental organization and must report all its financing to the state, he said. It’s true the budget has gone up in the last year or two, but only by one or two million shekels, Delmonti said. “The report [was] one large illogical hodgepodge of misinformation.”