The Defense Ministry is holding up the implementation of recommendations that would reorganize the way donations are raised for the Israel Defense Forces, notably by eliminating the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers, a long-standing national institution better known by its Hebrew name, “Ha’aguda Lema’an Hahayal.”

A new fundraising organization slated to replace AWIS in Israel, which was to begin operations in January, has not yet been established, Haaretz has learned.

In May the ministry announced that a new organization would be set up that would replace AWIS. The proposed entity would also replace the well-known Libi Fund, which provides support for the IDF as well.

The new organization is to be known as “Ha’aguda Hahadasha Lesherut Hahayal” - literally “The New Organization for Service to the Soldier” - and by the Hebrew acronym “Achla,” a slang word for “great.”

The proposed reorganization is based on recommendations of a public committee headed by Arie Mientkavich, a businessman who at one time chaired the Israel Securities Authority.

The committee was convened in 2011 to look at AWIS’s operations and other similar fundraising entities. The committee’s report, which was issued that same year, was highly critical of the AWIS and called for it to be dissolved.

Udi Shani, who until August of this year was director general of the Defense Ministry, issued a directive requiring that a portion of the committee’s recommendations be carried out.

He ordered that the process of establishing the two new organizations begin in July of this year and be completed by the end of 2013.

But Haaretz has learned that little has been done, even though the new year is only a month and a half away. The new organization, Achla, was never set up.

Data that AWIS provided to the Registrar of Non-Profit Organizations shows that in recent years, the level of contributions from abroad for the benefit of IDF soldiers remained about the same (with the exception of repeated fluctuations in the contributions between 2010 and 2012 - but salary expenses and related expenses simply increased. In 2012, AWIS had NIS 154.9 million in the financial contributions.

Wages and related expenses that year were about NIS 50 million. In 2011, the level of contributions was NIS 120.7 million while AWIS’s wage costs were NIS 47.5 million.

During the prior year, 2010, AWIS had NIS 150.2 million in contributions and wage expenses of NIS 42.4 million, while in 2009, the comparable figures were NIS 150.6 million in contributions and NIS and salary costs of NIS 40 million.

This includes the management salary, the salary of AWIS facilities workers and of fundraising staff.

AWIS: No link between donations and salaries

AWIS contends that comparing salary costs to the level of contributions is not appropriate since the organization does not operate simply to raise funds, but also operates facilities for the wellbeing of soldiers. While that is accurate, former senior IDF officers who are familiar with the issue raised the question of whether it was appropriate for a philanthropic organization to have executive wage costs of more than NIS 10 million a year. “These are entities that I don’t think are lean and they are entities that cost money, some from the Defense Ministry and some from commission fees for its activities,” said one senior reserve officer.

Mientkavich told Haaretz that the current situation was tantamount to usurping public funds, since the Defense Ministry’s budget includes funding for these organizations’ operations to the tune of about NIS 100 million a year.

AWIS responded that “Soldiers who benefit from our activities will attest to the quality of our services, and so will our partners within the IDF, the Defense Ministry, and abroad.”

With regard to implementing the Defense Ministry’s decisions, it stated, “The organization will comply with any decision made on the subject by the Defense Ministry.”

With regard to its wage costs, it said, “Activities at our facilities are not funded by donations, and there is no connection between donations and employees’ salaries or subsidiaries’ budgets.

The relevant comparison is the relation between the amount of funds donated and the cost of raising funds, which was NIS 2 million in 2012. Salary expenses listed in financial reports from 2011-2012 include the Shekliot employees’ salaries following a merger, which were not included in the reports from 2009-2010.”