Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai (Labor) invested NIS 30 million in a joint venture with the Panim organization against the recommendation of the Attorney-General's Office, Maariv reported this week.
According to columnist Kalman Liebeskind, the Attorney-General's Office sent a letter to the ministry more than six months ago, claiming that there is “great difficulty” in the way the ministry intends to transfer tens of millions of shekels to the "Jewish Renewal," a project that plans to budget progressive Israeli Jewish organizations.
The Jerusalem Post revealed a month ago that the final preparations were completed for the establishment of the joint venture with Panim, an umbrella organization dealing with the matter, that has "a deep familiarity with Jewish traditions and identities operating in Israel and around the world," according to a ministry press release.
"The new joint venture will allow organizations in Israel to connect to their unique Jewish tradition and culture," the release said. "This is a large and first-of-its-kind government investment, which will be managed under the Jewish Renewal Division, which was established this year in the ministry." The joint venture's budget will be NIS 60 million, half financed by the Diaspora Affairs Ministry and half by Panim.
Jewish org. chosen without tender, Gilad Kariv involved
According to Maariv, Panim was chosen by Shai's office without a tender. Maariv's investigation revealed it is a small organization that employs only two people, whose turnover is just over NIS 600,000 per year, about half of which is for salary and general expenses.
According to the Post’s sister Hebrew publication, Panim “has no experience in managing budgets on large scales like those currently granted by the Diaspora Affairs Ministry.”
It was also revealed that MK rabbi Gilad Kariv, also a member of the Labor Party who assisted Panim to receive the grant and invited its CEO to speak at the committee he chaired in the Knesset, was at the time a member of the organization’s executive committee.
Kariv told those present at the Knesset meeting that he left the board of Panim when he entered politics, but Maariv’s investigation found that the statements were not true and that the MK only left the organization months later. According to Maariv, when he chaired the committee where the CEO of Panim spoke, he was still a member of its executive committee.
A-G must stop illegal funding, Shas MK says
FOLLOWING LEIBESKIND’S investigation, MK Moshe Arbel of Shas turned to Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara with a request that she “urgently review the findings” and until then, “that she stops funding the project.”
In addition, rabbi Pesach Lerner, chairman of the Eretz Hakodesh (Holy Land) political party in the World Zionist Congress, also sent Baharav-Miara a letter of complaint. "The findings are serious," he wrote. "They raise real concerns that this is an improper contract and the transfer of coalition funds in the amount of tens of millions of shekels to affiliated entities with a conflict of interest and a lack of cleanliness."
"As mentioned, the activity in the field of Jewish renewal, which aims to allow all Jews in Israel to connect with their unique Jewish tradition and culture, was assigned to the Diaspora Affairs Ministry,” a written response to the allegations stated on behalf of the ministry.
“After examining the issue with all the relevant parties in the government, including the ministry of justice, it was decided to act in accordance with section 8 of the opinion of the deputy attorney-general, who states that the issue is within the scope of the ministry's authority, even without a government decision,” it said. “Accordingly, the Diaspora Affairs Ministry worked to promote the project with the consent of all parties, including the Justice Affairs and Finance ministries and in accordance with all laws and procedures."
The "Jewish Renewal Venture" will be responsible for organizing, expanding and developing Jewish renewal in Israel and empowering it through projects and content for the general public. Initiatives that will be funded by the venture include seminars, study tours, lectures and community cultural events.
"The joint venture will promote training and activities in informal educational frameworks and will cooperate with local authorities, in accordance with the local populations of each municipal authority and with an emphasis on new audiences," sources in the ministry said a month ago. The project’s activities are expected to reach about 700,000 participants.