Corruption alleged in J'lem funding of Shas event

Deputy Mayor Eli Simhayof of Shas has authorized a NIS 550,000 cultural event in which top party officials are prominently advertised.

eli simhayof 88 (photo credit: )
eli simhayof 88
(photo credit: )
Four months before the Jerusalem mayoral elections, Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Eli Simhayof of Shas has authorized a NIS 550,000 cultural event in which top party officials are prominently advertised, despite a memorandum sent by the municipality's legal advisor forbidding the use of city funds for any event that may be perceived as part of an election campaign, city officials said Thursday. The municipality responded that the event was "apolitical." The third annual haredi penmen event, which is slated to take place within a month, is being funded by the city's general arts budget. A brochure promoting the gala event from last year features the photo of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef on its cover, while Simhayof appears multiple times. City attorney Yossi Havilio said the Shas deputy mayor continued to distribute the brochures despite a memo the municipal legal adviser had penned against using city funds for campaign purposes, especially in the months before elections, according to city documents. The event has provoked scathing criticism by opposition leaders who view it as propaganda funded by taxpayers' money. "It is inconceivable that the public has to fund a political event endorsing Shas and the party's deputy mayor," said Jerusalem city councilman Sa'ar Netanel of Meretz. "This is outright corruption." He noted that the funding came at a time when the city budget for cultural institutions was very low, and added that he was asking the Interior Ministry to force Shas to pay for the event and to return the money for the past two events. In a joint statement, the Jerusalem Municipality and Simhayof's office denied that politics were involved in the event, in which the city - subject to the decision of an independent committee - awards several monetary and book prizes. "The event is an apolitical city event without political speeches or any politicians appearing on stage," the statement read. "Therefore, the concern over election propaganda at this event is completely unfounded, since we are talking about an event which is in its third year and which will continue to take place, God willing, in the years to come, without connection to the elections or their date." Jerusalem mayoral elections are slated to take place in November, but could be pushed back by several months if there are national elections this fall.