Calling the tunes

The municipality has restored its financial support for Beit Avi Chai’s upcoming Piyut Festival after temporarily withdrawing funding

beit avi chai311 (photo credit: sarah levin)
beit avi chai311
(photo credit: sarah levin)
According to the proverb, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Well, it seems that this ancient aphorism recently made aliya, straight to our beloved city. Here is a story of how a desirable and appropriate goal has turned sour and might cause some real harm to a large part of this city’s residents.
It all started about six years ago: Many municipal councils were facing huge deficits in their budgets but still wanted to maintain a reasonable level of community and cultural activities. On top of that, some of them faced deficits caused by large reductions in property taxes (arnona) they received from residents. The outcome of this situation was somewhat absurd. On one hand, the municipality would approve reductions, discounts or even total exemption, while requesting from the government additional funding to continue.
Another issue was the high salaries paid to directors of cultural institutions, while these same institutions asked for financial support from the municipality or the Culture Ministry – or both – to continue to provide events for the taxpayers.
In the case of Jerusalem, things became particularly tight when, following the difficult situation caused by the intifada – lack of tourists, drop in tax income and so on – the government decided to grant the city a special allowance to allow it to maintain “business as usual” as much as possible.
The special grant did help the city stay alive from a cultural point of view during those dark days. At one point, the chief accountant at the Treasury issued a ruling that cultural institutions that paid their directors more than NIS 130,000 would have a reduction in the grants they obtained from the state.
At the time, this journalist thought it was a fair decision.
You can’t seriously ask for money that comes from the taxpayers and use it to pay for cultural activities, as well as outrageously high salaries. The accountant designated specific levels for salaries; and since then, any cultural institution that wants to use taxpayers’ money has to set reasonable limits on the salaries of its directors.
This restriction only applies to regular grants allocated by the city, but not to funding for joint activities of the municipality and a cultural institution.
All this brings us to the present situation. True to the Treasury’s instructions, Jerusalem municipal treasurer Eli Zituk, duly backed by the city’s legal adviser’s delegate and convinced he was dealing with regular financial support of the institution, ordered a serious cut in the budget allocated by the municipality for the annual Piyut Festival, which is also sponsored by the city, held at Beit Avi Chai.
Someone in the Culture Department forgot to indicate this was direct support for a cultural event – to which the Treasury rule does not apply. The director of Beit Avi Chai, Dani Danieli, tried to explain that no taxpayers’ money would go toward his institution’s salaries (the truth is that Beit Avi Chai finances the largest part of the festival’s expenses) – but no one would listen. Danieli also tried to explain that considering that this festival had become, in a very short time, one of the most popular events in the city, perhaps it was especially in the residents’ interest to support it generously.
But nothing helped. Until this week, when a mysterious voice murmured to the people in charge at Kikar Safra that they were on the wrong path – that the festival’s support should be submitted under the category of “joint cultural activities” (to which the Treasury rule does not apply) and not as general support for Beit Avi Chai (which warrants the limits imposed by the Treasury).
This journalist has given her word not to reveal identity of the murmurer. After all, what really counts is that the Piyut Festival – a superb musical and cultural event – will receive the modest help of the municipality in full.
And that we all change our tune with time!