Judge Orders Religious Services Ministry to Reopen Tender Won by Bennett Crony

Contract had been awarded to a firm that managed Habayit Hayehudi’s political campaign last year, even though it had little experience of delivering religious services.

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The Jerusalem District Court last week voided the results of a tender issued by the Religious Services Ministry, because the winner’s proposal was considerably more costly than the others and the company has no background in delivering religious services. The winner, Gal Oren, is an advertising agency that managed the Habayit Hayehudi political campaign, as well as chairman-Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett’s personal campaign for the party leadership.

The firm won the tender to manage logistics for the coming shmita (sabbatical) year, even though its bid was 1.66 million shekels ($477,000) higher than the next highest bid, and it demonstrated little or no connection to the criteria set out in the tender. The ruling was issued last Thursday and reported Sunday by Army Radio.

Judge David Mintz accepted the petition of Uman Religious Services Ltd., represented by attorney Israel Bach, which argued that there seemed to be no connection between the tender instructions – which related primarily to the delivery of religious services – and the protocol of the tender committee, which awarded points to bidders primarily for marketing, advertising and distribution capabilities.

“It’s hard to ignore that the decision by the subcommittee to include [in the tender] items as advertising, marketing, printing, event production, distribution, mapping and the like was the result of a bid by Gal Oren,” the judge ruled. “These issues were almost irrelevant to all the other bidders.”

The judge also noted there were other curious things about the committee’s decision. For example, it chose to ignore 135 of the 139 projects cited by competing firms to prove their suitability. Among the projects not awarded any points were those submitted by the firm that had managed the shmita project seven years ago, and another project managed by Uman Religious Services for bestowing ordination on hundreds of applicants. In contrast, Gal Oren was awarded points for eight of 17 projects that included managing a trade fair and sales promotions.

The judge ruled that the ministry’s tender committee had to reopen the deliberations, this time focusing on the criteria that were advertised. The state was also ordered to pay 20,000 shekels in court costs.

“It’s inconceivable that a government ministry should show such contempt for public funds,” said Bach after the ruling. “The court unequivocally determined that there were serious deficiencies in the way the tender for providing shmita services was conducted by the Religious Services Ministry.”

The Religious Services Ministry responded, “The ruling rejected all the procedural arguments against the ministry’s conduct. It unequivocally rejected the claim of an improper relationship with or bias toward the Gal Oren company, and rejected the claim that there was any problem with extending the deadline for submitting bids. The only thing the ruling deals with at length is the decision by the subcommittee regarding the criteria and the projects that must be evaluated, and by which the bidders should be ranked.”

Gal Oren’s attorney, Elad Betzer, said, “The court dismissed all the claims against Gal Oren and accepted our position in toto. All it stated was that the subcommittee has to re-award the points in accordance with the criteria set by the ministry. I’m convinced that even under such an evaluation, Gal Oren will win the tender, because its proposal was of a far higher quality than any of the others submitted.”

Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett.Credit: Nir Kafri

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