Avraham defends expenditures for 60th anniversary

During a press conference MK's staff hands out booklets listing distribution of NIS 100m. budget.

ruhama avraham 224 88 (photo credit: Courtesy: Knesset Web site)
ruhama avraham 224 88
(photo credit: Courtesy: Knesset Web site)
Minister-without-Portfolio Ruhama Avraham-Balila was sticking to her guns Sunday, detailing plans for the upcoming 60th anniversary festivities on the first workday after Yediot Aharonot published a scathing criticism of her efforts to plan Israel's 60th birthday bash. During an afternoon press conference at the Prime Minister's Office, Avraham-Balila's staff handed out booklets listing planned events and the distribution of the NIS 100 million budget that was allocated for the celebrations. Organizers said that their goal for the event was to allow for greater involvement of all of Israel's citizens in the celebration - a reference to allegations following the country's jubilee celebrations that not much was organized for the average Israeli. In addition to a mass wedding of 60 immigrant couples, a mass bar mitzva of 600 children and a series of "appreciation days" for Israel's minority populations throughout the year, Avraham-Balila's plans have included a series of events for Independence Day itself, including a sound-and-light show in eight cities with a target audience of two million, an army band performance involving groups from 10 foreign countries, a special activity for residents of Sderot and the Gaza periphery, a military fly-over, sail-by and parachute drop in periphery communities and three massive parties. But Avraham-Balila's plans have been met with seemingly endless criticism. In its Friday magazine, Yediot Aharonot ran a lengthy article criticizing the high turnover rate among top staffers planning the event and voicing concerns that the Kadima minister was more interested in furthering her own image than in making sure the events were successful. Throughout the past months, various advocacy groups and lower income towns have criticized the massive budget allocated for festivities while so many necessary projects went unfunded. Avraham-Balila's office, however, defended the expenditures, saying that the budget - when taking into consideration inflation - was around a third of that allocated for the 50th anniversary festivities planned a decade ago. And during the press conference, Avraham-Balila emphasized that some of the projects were long-term investments, including 60 new playgrounds, 60 wheelchair-accessible picnic areas and overlooks in parks, the 60-kilometer Lake Kinneret circular walking trail, the restoration of 60 memorials to the War of Independence and a 1,200-km bicycle trail planned to stretch across the country.