Kadima MK Shlomo Molla hit back angrily on Tuesday at allegations made in The Jerusalem Post by an anonymous source that he had used donations from US Jewish organizations and individuals for personal expenses.
"I have great respect for any person who gives money to special causes in Israel," Molla, the country's only Ethiopian parliamentarian, told the Post in an exclusive interview. "And I am open and welcoming to any organization that wants to support Israel and help others."
Molla was responding to claims by a source close to him that he had used money given to him by Orthodox institutions, Reform and Conservative congregations and at least one rabbi to buy clothes and presents for his family during a recent trip to the US.
"The 'reliable source' that your previous article refers to is in reality a disgruntled former volunteer who had a personal interest in receiving the money," he said, adding that he had documented proof of this.
"I have reason to believe that this is his motivation for these slanderous and wrongful accusations," he said.
The MK also addressed information published earlier this week by the Hebrew media that revealed how a large donation from an American messianic Jewish (Christian) organization had ended up in his private bank account.
"In May 2009, I received $10,000 from the organization named Jewish Voice," explained Molla. "The money was intended for a distribution fund for needy members of the Jewish Ethiopian community. My agreement with the organization was that the money would be distributed according to certain criteria at the end of 2009. I had no intention whatsoever to distribute the money without such criteria and a legal way to transfer it to families and individuals."
He emphasized that "the state comptroller has full knowledge of all campaign activities and the receiving and spending of funds for my primary campaign in the Kadima Party, and I am willing and able to provide documentation of this."
Molla, who worked for the Jewish Agency before joining the Knesset in October 2008, added, "I had good intentions when I took that money. I really wanted to use it for the purposes they suggested, but was waiting and waiting for them to get back to me to specify criteria for its use.
"I am really sorry that I took that chance, but the money has now been returned and the issue is over," he said.
"It is clear that there are people who are trying to destroy me," Molla said. "I am the only Ethiopian Knesset member, and there are some people who are scared of that; they want to ruin my life.
"I am an honest guy and a serious politician. I make a good salary from the Knesset. Why would I need this money for my personal use?" he continued, adding, "I came to this country with nothing and worked my way up through the ranks. I worked hard to get where I am and I know how important these donations are."
In addition to the alleged misuse of funds, Molla addressed other charges that he had falsified his academic credentials.
"Since I have a respected bachelor's of law, I have no reason to pretend I have a bachelor's degree in social work," he said. "It is obvious that the Knesset Web site made a technical error, which I requested they correct immediately after I learned about it."