MKs Approve Funding for New 'Jewish Identity' Body - Without Knowing Budget

But NIS 14 million won't be transferred until body explains what it will actually do with the funds, following Labor MK Stav Shafir's opposition.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Knesset's Economic Affairs Committee on Wednesday approved NIS 14 million in funds for the Jewish Identity Administration, a new body established in the Religious Services Ministry, despite not being presented with specific plans or objectives for the money.

Following the opposition of MK Stav Shafir (Labor), the administration will have to present specific plans before the funds are actually transferred. The administration was established as part of the coalition agreement between Likud and Habayit Hayehudi.

Before the funds were approved, Shafir requested clarifications regarding several issues, asking the Religious Services Ministry representative, Hezi Cohen, what was the "Jewish identity" that the administration was about to promote, its projected yearly budget and the number of schools in which it plans to operate.

Cohen's response was general: "The administration will operate in the framework of the Religious Services Ministry. It will carry out projects supporting various sectors, focusing on youth. It will operate among religious, secular and Haredi groups, encouraging contacts through experiential encounters with the Bible and various Jewish sources. The object of the activity is to encourage discourse, questions and answers, and transform the Jewish identity to a uniting factor in society." The response failed to satisfy Shafir, and piqued coalition MK Elazar Stern (Hatenuah) as well.

Despite not being presented with specific details, the committee approved the NIS 14 million budget, which will be taken from the reserve funds of the Finance Ministry. Shafir objected strongly to the decision and appealed. Following talks with the committee's legal advisers, it was agreed that a new vote on the funding would not be held until the Religious Affairs Ministry supplied specific answers about the use of the funds. In effect, Shafir managed to block the transfer of funds until the committee is presented with detailed plans.

Shafir said that "every week millions of shekels are transferred bypassing the Knesset in moves that lack transparency as part of 'budget transfers.' The official aim is necessary changes in the budget; in practice, this is a route for hidden political deals worth billions of shekels, while the public is kept in the dark. The Jewish Identity Administration is a case in point. The aim of the administration is to invade your children's schools and teach them to be Jewish. What form of Judaism are we talking about? The Judaism of Naftali Bennett's rabbis – Orthodox, racist, isolationist, anti-secular, and, of course, glorifying the settlement drive."

Still, Yesh Atid sources insisted on Tuesday that due to their insistence, the coalition agreements state that the administration will reflect the different movements in Judaism, and will fund activities related to these movements equally.

Naftali Bennett at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.Credit: AP

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