By SHEERA CLAIRE FRENKEL, GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
Israel's political parties have been scrambling to check their pocketbooks following the announcement last week that the Labor Party was NIS 122 million in debt.
Only relative newcomers to the political scene - Kadima, Gil Pensioners and Israel Beiteinu - were completely free of debt, according to a poll conducted by The Jerusalem Post.
Kadima receives a budget of NIS 20 million from the state for its 29 MKs, and will receive an addition NIS 40 million for its municipal races.
"Kadima is a new party and has not had the time to acquire the debt of the other parties," said a party spokesman. "We are well-organized and well-managed."
Israel Beiteinu, which took out loans during the previous elections, said it had completely paid back its loans.
"We have no monetary problems whatsoever," said a party spokeswoman.
The Gil Pensioners Party also said they paid back all the debts accumulated during the election and were currently in good financial standing.
The eight other parties in the Knesset, however, all acknowledged various levels of debt, although none came close to Labor's tab.
Likud came the closest to Labor's amount, currently standing NIS 30 million in debt.
Party Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu said that he was "optimistic" about Likud's debt, considering that when he took over the party it was NIS 40m in debt.
"I inherited a debt of NIS 40m. from my predecessor, it is down to NIS 30m. now. We had 70 workers in the Likud's Tel Aviv headquarters and now we have 12," said Netanyahu. "I don't know how you get to a NIS 122m. debt."
Meretz also said they were closing in on their NIS 10m. debt, which they accumulated in 2003 after taking a heavy loss in the election.
Shas, which was NIS 18m. in debt six years ago, said it had used a strict financial plan to get back on track, and was now barely NIS 2m. in debt.
"When we began to see our debt mushroom we imposed very strict restrictions," said a Shas Party manager. "I don't see how a party could let itself get out of control to tens of millions of shekels in debt and do nothing."
NU-NRP, which is actually divided into four separate factions that each handle their own accounts, is approximately NIS 6m. in debt, according to party officials.
During the last elections, NU took out a loan of NIS 4m., while NRP took out loans of NIS 2 million. Both of the factions are "on track" to paying their loans back, said party MKs.
While most of the Arab MKs declined to comment on their finances, MK Ahmed Tibi of United Arab List-Ta'al said that the party was "hundreds of thousands of shekels" in debt, but would pay back those debts by the end of 2008.
Earlier this week, the Labor Party announced that it would sell some of the 80 buildings it owns and fire most of its employees to deal with its NIS 122m. debt.
The party has set up a steering committee to formulate a recovery plan, which will be brought for the Labor secretariat's approval after the High Holy Days.
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