Israeli watchdog slams lag in renewing JAFI mandate over Diaspora Jewry

Agency exempt from tender bids in a number of areas.

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira‏ (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira‏
The annual State Comptroller’s report released Tuesday flagged a decades-old law on the unique status of the Jewish Agency for Israel as being out of date, leading to loose interpretations of its role.
The audit found that government ministries have allowed JAFI exemption from tender bids in a number of areas, which are seemingly not permitted according to the 1952 Law on the Status of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency for Israel, and the Covenant between the Government of Israel and the Jewish Agency, which was amended in 1979.
The report also noted that almost 40 years have passed since the agreement was last amended, during which there have been major changes to public services as well as to legislation concerning social services.
Having automatic control over such a large range of areas undermines competition on those projects and can even prevent the ministries from attaining advantages inherent in public tendering, the report said.
In 2016, six ministries and three statutory corporations had 26 contractual arrangements with JAFI and its subsidiaries, amounting to NIS 3 billion – 78% of which is from the government, 21% from JAFI and 1% from elsewhere.
JAFI said in response: “Due to a narrow interpretation of the 1952 Law on the Status of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency for Israel, as proffered by certain legal advisers, the comptroller concluded that a small portion of those contractual relationships deviated to some extent from the strict definition of the Jewish Agency’s role.”
The agency acknowledged that given the year during which the areas of activity were defined, they were inconsistent with present- day reality, and stressed that an amendment had been made to the law in the last month.
“The Knesset, in a rare partnership between the coalition and the opposition, recently passed an important amendment to the 1952 law, defining the Jewish Agency’s areas of activity in a manner consistent with present-day reality and expanding the purposes for which the government may enter into tender-exempt contractual relationships with the Jewish Agency. This legislation, adopted toward the end of the comptroller’s examination, fully addresses the concerns raised by the comptroller and, in fact, resolves all of the potential problems suggested by his report,” the agency said.
The law and the covenant originally referred only to activities such as aliya, absorption and developing the then new State of Israel. The new amendment expands the agency’s roles to strengthening Jewish identity among Diaspora Jews, deepening ties to Jewish heritage in Israel and abroad, Israel experience programs, dispatching emissaries abroad, partnerships between Diaspora Jewry and Israel, Jewish education and Hebrew language instruction abroad, combating antisemitism and hatred toward Israel, and developing Jewish culture abroad.
On the issue of competition, a JAFI spokesman remarked that the legislation “stemmed from legislators’ recognition that the Jewish Agency is uniquely positioned to carry out the fundamental national functions delineated therein. There is no other organization with the proven capacity to engage in the stated activities, and so the question of competition in those areas is moot.” He also noted that the legislation does not prevent the government from publishing tenders if it believes it can receive better value at lesser cost.
The comptroller’s report also pointed to a lack of follow-up of the efficacy of agency- run programs, saying “the ministries continue to contract them without carefully examining the benefits they bring to the public.”
As well as ensuring that all programs are properly regulated, the comptroller called on the Accountant General’s Office in the Finance Ministry to “urgently circulate rules of engagement for government ministries with the national institutions, including the Jewish Agency, and to ensure that the government ministries act accordingly.”