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A little more than 10 years ago, the Knesset enacted legislation prohibiting the allocation of "special funds" - a reference to clauses in the budget making it possible to transfer government funds to individual institutions. Under the law passed then, clauses in the budget were intended solely for general purposes, and allocations had to be divided on the basis of fair and equal criteria.

In 1997, however, the official in charge of financial support in the Attorney General's Office, attorney Amnon de Hartoch, published an article in the law journal Mishpatim in which he stated in no uncertain terms that the attempt to annul the special allocations had failed. The special funding was not only continuing, it might even have become more flagrant, he wrote: In order to continue transferring money to institutions they favored, politicians were tailoring criteria as they saw fit.

In other words, government ministries will always first stick the arrow in the target - that is, they will first decide to whom they want to allocate funds - and then draw the target, namely the criteria, around the arrow. De Hartoch undoubtedly knows whereof he speaks. The law stipulates that the attorney general has to authorize all criteria for allocation of funds, and de Hartoch is the official who examines those criteria.

Here are two examples, of the many that could be put forward, to illustrate how criteria are tailor-made. In 1999, the Education Ministry funded 114 seminars for Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) culture, 94 of them (more than 80 percent) under the auspices of an organization called Arakhim (Values) that seeks to persuade non-religious Jews to become religious. The state subsidized each of the organization's seminars to the tune of NIS 18,000, adding up to a grand total of NIS 1.7 million.

The second example is the criteria for funding religious research institutes. In this framework, the Ministry of Religious Affairs regularly grants enlarged allocations to institutes connected with the family of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual mentor of the Shas party. These enlarged allocations are based on a very peculiar criterion, according to which the criteria for funding Torah institutes apply to all such bodies - with the exception of 15 institutes, which get 25 percent more than the others.

De Hartoch and his small staff are not always able to identify the stitches in the criteria that are sent for their approval. In his article, he recommended that this be done by making public the criteria ahead of their authorization and letting the public submit objections. The assumption was that if the criteria were made known to the general public, there would be people who could help the Attorney General's Office unravel the tailor-made stitches.

The question of why the drafts of the criteria have not yet been made available for public perusal entailed a legal problem, too. For the past 20 years, the guidelines of the attorney general have stated that drafts of regulations that contain "significant innovation or have a concrete effect on a large segment of the public" should be given advance publication. It is difficult to think of regulations that have more of an effect on a large part of the public than new criteria for government funding.

Initial progress in this sphere was made in connection with budgetary allocations for general culture. The Culture Ministry's authorization criteria for various areas were both very late and illegal.

But in 2001, the ministry completed the draft criteria for the spheres of cinema, theater and music, and submitted them for the perusal of the relevant institutions and experts. That was an example of proper procedure.

A genuine breakthrough was achieved only recently in the wake of a petition submitted to the High Court of Justice regarding budgeting for Jewish culture by organizations for the study of Judaism in the Reform, Conservative and secular spirit. One of the requests put forward by the petitioners, who were represented by lawyers from the Israel Religious Action Center of the Movement for Progressive (Reform) Judaism, was that when criteria are decided on, "a draft of the tests be made available to the public." In this way, the final decision would not be made until the budgeted organizations had their say.

In the response given the High Court by the State Attorney's Office, the state for the first time undertook to publish a draft of the tests of the criteria "so that the public will have time to make its comments before the final criteria are decided." More importantly, the state informed the court that the aim of the attorney general is "to make use of this tool of publishing a draft based on considerations of the public interest, at least in all cases of complexity or that bear on the broad public and in other fitting cases."

In legal language, this is a declaration of new policy, according to which, as a rule, new criteria or a significant revision of criteria will henceforth be made public so that those who so desire can state their objections. It is difficult to see how anyone who does not comply with this will be able to explain his motives to the High Court satisfactorily. In any event, this provides true hope, albeit late, that the end of the phenomenon of the tailored criteria is at hand.