(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Knesset State Control Committee on Monday kept the heat on the Jewish Agency regarding possible corruption in the expected sale of land in Mevaseret Zion by its pension fund. The sale would lead to the eviction of hundreds of Ethiopian immigrant families who have been living at the site’s absorption center for years.
Missing transcripts from Israel Lands Administration (ILA) meetings on the issue and the ILA’s failure to provide other requested information to the State Comptroller’s Office, despite the initiation of an investigation in June, have raised suspicions regarding the case.
Until the Knesset and the Comptroller’s Office got involved, the pension fund was going to sell the land for regular residential housing development and find alternate housing for the Ethiopian immigrants living in the absorption building.
According to Jewish Agency and ILA officials, the land has been privately owned for a long time and the right to sell the land – including the right to knock down the absorption building and build residential housing – dates back to 2005.
During the Knesset panel, the sides continued to fight over whether the sale meant that Ethiopian immigrants would effectively be “thrown out on the street.”
Those criticizing the sale say that the building was purchased with donations targeted specifically for absorbing immigrants and that there was no public debate about that issue or about the future of the Ethiopian immigrants.
A further twist is that the 2005 approval to change the land rights was made by then infrastructure minister Ehud Olmert, who has come under fire for bribery and corruption during the same time period.
When the comptroller ordered the investigation in June, Mevaseret Zion Absorption Committee member Jeremy Saltan said, “I welcome the decision of the comptroller.
We need to return the trust in our country and our institutions by finding out the truth of what really happened behind the scenes. If indeed it was Olmert who signed off on the land transfer, as stated in the committee, then I wasn’t far off by suggesting this might be Holyland II.”
Jewish Agency and ILA officials were under fire throughout the Knesset hearing, as in past hearings.
During a debate about how much oversight there is of the Jewish Agency, government officials supporting the agency said that critics’ recourse should be to pass a law requiring oversight. Committee Chairman Karin Elharar sarcastically interjected, “Good luck getting this coalition government to pass that law!”