In the past year, Shas' El Hama'ayan educational network received NIS 12 million from the Education Ministry for "Torah and Jewish culture lessons not held within a formal learning framework."
This was in addition to the regular budget the organization gets from the ministry. El Hama'ayan was the big winner in this regard, but others also fared well. About NIS 35.3 million has been distributed for this purpose in 2012, most of it to Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox organizations - some of which are engaged in trying to convert secular people to religion.
By comparison, the Masorati (Conservative) Movement was granted less than NIS 100,000 for its activities in the sphere of Jewish education.
Many government ministries dole out money to support institutions and organizations outside the regular annual budget. Clear criteria exist for such funding; the applicants must meet minimum conditions, which are published occasionally.
"On the face of it, everything is legal," says a senior figure from an organization involved in non-Orthodox Jewish education. "There are regulations that everyone can access, and these are published. In some cases, there is an occasional review by the Registrar of Associations or the Finance Ministry.
"In practice, though," she adds, "the support is not divided equally among organizations, and certainly not fairly. The government ministries are very good at giving goodies to those who are close to their heart or to their political creed, and at ensuring that they get more than others."
The source is a veteran of the annual chase for Education Ministry support. Her organization got a few thousand shekels in 2012 - crumbs, she says. She requests that her name and the organization she works for not be mentioned, lest even those crumbs are taken away. "The Education Ministry places hurdles in front of Jewish pluralistic groups," she claims. "They have to prove they were active in the past year, especially in regard to number of hours and number of students. Amazingly, these criteria favor the Haredi associations in particular. The result is a closed circle of associations of a certain type, which enjoy ongoing government support. It is very difficult for new organizations to enter that circle, especially if they are pluralistic."
According to an official in another organization engaged in Jewish education and culture, inside information from the Education Ministry - about revisions in the regulations that determine the scale of support - was leaked to Orthodox and Haredi associations. "Organizations that are not privy to the secret can submit requests until they are blue in the face. At best, they will get a few tens of thousands of shekels."
A spokesman for the Education Ministry stated in response, "There is no foundation to the claim about an 'informal connection.'" In addition, he said, requests for support are examined by a committee whose members include "representatives of [the Education Ministry's] Economics and Budgets Directorate, the accountancy department and the legal adviser."
The NIS 35.3 million earmarked for these informal Torah and Jewish culture lessons is the largest budget in the realm of Jewish culture. In addition to El Hama'ayan, the Education Ministry granted NIS 4.8 million to Torah Veyahadut La'am (Torah and Judaism for the People ); NIS 3.2 million to Ma'ayana shel Torah (Fountain of Torah ); NIS 2 million to Ha'adarat Hatoda'ah Hayehudit (Augmentation of Jewish Consciousness ); NIS 1.4 million to the Degel Yerushalayim Cultural Fund; and NIS 1 million to Jews for Jerusalem and the Holy Cities. The Masorati Movement, whose activity exceeds that of some of the organizations on the list, received NIS 99,000.
The Education Ministry also provides major funding to "colleges for Judaism and Land of Israel studies." In contrast to the previous group, whose primary target is the Haredi and religious-Zionist population, the colleges serve the entire Jewish sector.
However, a perusal of the list of supported organizations shows that institutions in the territories are prominently represented. Thus, the Susya Tours and Education Center (in the southern Hebron Hills ) and Midreshet Hebron received the largest funding - between NIS 550,000 and NIS 600,000 each. All told, similar institutions in the West Bank received almost NIS 3 million - about a third of the budget under this rubric. The largest single recipient was Midreshet Hagolan (in the Golan Heights ), which got NIS 692,000.
Under the same criteria, funding is made available to other right-wing institutions, some of a controversial character. Among them are Elad, which manages the City of David archaeological site in Jerusalem (about NIS 466,000 ); and the Midrasha, the educational wing of the Temple Institute, led by Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, which urges the building of a Third Temple (the Midrasha received NIS 189,000 and the institute NIS 121,000 ).
The lowest amount under this criteria - NIS 61,000 - went to Merhavim, an association identified with the Kibbutz Movement, which runs the movement's Seminar Efal, among other institutions.
"The pluralistic organizations tend to whine about discrimination in the granting of support for Jewish culture, but the simple truth is that secular people are not inclined to study Torah," says a source who knows about the government's subsidization program - including that of the Education Ministry - from the inside. "The bottom line is that the state does not give much money to the Haredi and other religious institutions, in terms of the scale of their activity. A secular beit midrash, which meets once every two weeks, cannot compare with the daily study of Torah."
A spokesman for the Education Ministry stated that the size of the grant for each institution corresponds to the scale of its activity. The ministry, he added, "supports different bodies, including institutions of Jewish culture, based on - and subject to - nonpartisan, egalitarian criteria, which are made public after having been approved by the attorney general."
The Culture and Sports Ministry pays out only a fraction of the amount of the Education Ministry - NIS 535 million vs. NIS 10.1 billion - to support external associations and organizations. But that is still enough to support ideological partners. For example, the Yeshiva Shavei Hevron association, located in Kiryat Arba - the Jewish urban settlement adjacent to Hebron - received NIS 45,517 from the Culture Ministry (in addition to NIS 3.6 million from the Education Ministry ). What is the association's connection to culture? A possible answer can be found in its goals, as provided to the Registrar of Associations: "To establish, develop and support sites of tourism and of early Jewish settlement in Hebron and its surroundings."
The amount in question is apparently the default sum of the Culture Ministry's funding under the rubric of preserving settlement sites. Precisely the same amount was given to several other organizations, at least two of which - the Yeshiva Karlin Stolin association and a related organization - would appear to have little connection with the history of Zionist settlement.
The Karlin Stolin Hasidic sect is considered one of the most extreme in Jerusalem. Its goals, as provided to the Registrar of Associations, make no reference to activities in the fields of tourism or culture. This, however, did not prevent the Culture Ministry from granting the sect more than NIS 281,000 - not only as a preserver of settlement heritage sites (NIS 45,517 ), but also for activity involving "the heritage of Jewish ethnic communities" (NIS 160,000 ) and for promoting "culture in the community" (NIS 76,000 ).
The Culture and Sports Ministry also subsidizes other fields of activity, such as "sports projects in the local authorities." The funds available under this clause - NIS 2.2 million - are not transferred to Haredi yeshivas but divided among 30 Jewish local governments and only two Arab ones - Kafr Manda and Abu Ghosh, which together received NIS 129,111, accounting for 5.7 percent of the budget.
Some might claim that Arabs are funded under the classification of support of "Arab culture activities." This year, the state made NIS 9 million available under this rubric - or 1.7 percent of the Culture Ministry's total budget to support external associations. If we add the support for "cultural activities for the Druze," the non-Jewish share of the support funding leaps to 2.1 percent of the total budget.
Both the Culture Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office subsidize the Jabotinsky Institute, which is identified with the Likud. The Culture Ministry transfers most of the amount under the rubric of "Culture, Science and Research Institutions," while the PMO budgets the institute through clauses such as the "Jabotinsky Council" or "Commemoration Centers." Since 2008, government support for the Jabotinsky Institute has increased from NIS 1.2 million to NIS 1.58 million.
The past five years have seen a 30 percent spurt in the support for the Uri Zvi Grinberg Heritage Home, which commemorates the nationalist poet (NIS 900,000 in the past year ). A far more dramatic increase in government support was registered by the Rina Mor National College, the educational arm of the Jabotinsky Institute, which, among other activities, offers courses for teachers and produces learning programs. Shulamit Livnat, the mother of Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat, has been running the college for many years. In the period under examination, support for the college soared by 80 percent, totaling NIS 268,000 in the past year. For some time, the Education Ministry budgeted the college, though in recent years its funding has come from the Prime Minister's Office.