Yesha Council leader Avi Ro'eh 370.
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Of the 5,469,041 Israelis who had the right to vote in last month’s local
elections, a majority was focused on improving transportation, education and
However, only five percent of the voters – those who live in
West Bank settlements – would have their newly elected representatives use their
resources to stage national campaigns against the government.
funding has been done for years by municipalities, regional and local councils
of settlements east of the Green Line. No mayor who is elected by anyone of the
95 percent of the citizens in 1967 Israel (i.e. not in settlements) would use
taxpayers’ money to campaign on national issues. It is time to expose this
illegitimate course of action, in the hope that our moderate representatives in
the Knesset will put an end to it.
One well-known beneficiary of
taxpayers’ money in the settlements is the Yesha Council. It is an NGO that many
Israelis know for staging huge media campaigns. The common denominator of these
PR and advertising efforts is to undermine any past or future agreement between
Israel and the Palestinian leadership. Even when such an agreement reflects the
stated goal of the governing coalition.
Founded shortly after the 1967
war, the Yesha Council advocates on behalf of the Israeli settler communities in
the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), a mission that includes supporting their
ideological-political struggle against peacemaking between Israel and the
Palestinians, as well as the expansion of the settlement enterprise and
annexation of the entire occupied territories to Israel.
extra-parliamentary organization, the Yesha Council’s mission may be extremist,
but is not illegitimate. However, the fact that its work is funded primarily by
transfers from the settlements’ municipal budgets is highly questionable given
its lobbying and advocacy activities. The Yesha Council has placed numerous
newspaper ads against rulings of the Supreme Court to evacuate illegal outposts
built on private Palestinian land. They employ a full-time coordinator to lobby
They stage demonstrations and propaganda tours for journalists.
These efforts are obviously in opposition to the vision that is repeatedly
stated by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of two states for two peoples. They
are inconsistent with the purpose of municipal taxes or state money provided to
local authorities. And they cost taxpayers a great deal of money.
more than NIS 12 million (about $3.5m.) were given to the Yesha Council from
budgets of local authorities of West Bank settlements. This transfer was meant
for campaigning against the government’s “Disengagement Plan” to evacuate Jewish
settlements in the Gaza Strip. As a result, the interior minister summoned the
local authorities for a hearing on the matter, but this did not stop the
municipalities from continuing to fund the Yesha Council.
In the past six
years, NIS 45m. (about $13m.) were transferred from settlements’ municipal
budgets to Yesha. In 2012, Yesha’s budget for advertising and advocacy, not
including wages, overhead costs and training, was some NIS 3.6m. Add to that the
advertising and political advocacy budgets directly spent by the 24
municipalities, regional and local councils of West Bank settlements, and the
magnitude of the problem becomes even more alarming. To give but one example,
the regional council of Binyamin spent about NIS 1.4m. on advocacy and
advertising, not including salaries.
While peace NGOs are often accused
of being funded by small donations of foreign governments, the most radical and
antagonistic NGO of all, the Yesha Council, is subversively funded by Israeli
taxpayers. No regional council or municipality that lies west of the Green Line
would be able to spend millions of shekels on public relations, for peace, the
two-state solution, or any other matter. Nor could a local council in the pre-
1967 borders transfer funds to pro-peace NGOs such as Peace Now, even though its
advertising and advocacy budget is less than a tenth of the Yesha
Sadly, this amounts to a bias against peace in the Israeli
system. When then-Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert funded a demonstration against the
Oslo Accords in 1994, peace activists Mossi Raz and Anat Hoffman threatened to
appeal to the Supreme Court against this misuse of public funds, but compromised
with the municipality before the case got to court.
A year later, when
the government was negotiating the evacuation of the Golan Heights settlements
in favor of an Israeli-Syrian peace deal, an ad-hoc committee of local residents
was set up to campaign against the government’s actions, again supported by
public money. This time, Peace Now appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled,
bizarrely, two to one in favor of local authorities funding political campaigns,
provided they are used to protect the interests of their own residents. This is
quite a peculiar ruling: residents of cities west of the Green Line surely
suffer from terror as well as economic hardship resulting from the conflict, yet
it is inconceivable that the moderate and left-wing mayors from Tel Aviv, Haifa,
or Beersheva would spend a single shekel on newspaper ads by a peace NGO
campaigning for a two-state solution.
The common Hebrew term “mamlachti”
means being respectful to the rules of the system. While every Israeli is
affected by the conflict and the majority supports a territorial compromise for
peace, the elected representatives of this majority behave in a “mamlachti”
fashion, granting the settler leadership disproportionate budgets and
representation in the media and the corridors of the government.
2000 a bill was presented in the Knesset by then-MK Mossi Raz, which would have
led to the de-funding of the Yesha Council. The bill called for prohibiting
local authorities from funding controversial political campaigns through the
taxes these authorities collect from their residents, as well as from the state
budgets they receive. The bill applied to local authorities in both
settlementsas well as west of the Green Line (although, as stated above, no
local authority in 1967 Israel funds such controversial campaigns). The bill
failed in the Knesset. The moderates in the current coalition – whether from
Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid or Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua – can and ought to raise this
Ironically, if the government made progress in the current
talks, it might find itself facing a highly visible media campaign opposing an
agreement that it is funded by the government itself. The unavoidable conclusion
is therefore to end taxpayer support for the Yesha Council now.
author has been the executive director of OneVoice Israel, a movement promoting
the two-state solution, and is currently working for its DC office.