Eduction Minister Limor Livnat has quadrupled the budget of the association that her mother, Shulamit Livnat, runs on a salaried basis.
Shulamit Livnat, known as the chanteuse of the pre-state Lehi and Etzel (Irgun) undergrounds, has been running the Rina Mor National College association for the past 20 years.
Since her daughter became education minister in March 2001, the association began to receive generous support from the ministry, and the salaries of its officers have also increased.
In the 2001 budget, while Ehud Barak was prime minister, the association received NIS 66,847 - only a quarter of its former budget. But in the 2002 budget, which was drafted entirely by Livnat, the minister introduced a new regulation intended to provide support for "educational activity for the study of the heritage of the defense forces and undergrounds in the pre-state period, such as Etzel, Lehi and others."
Due to this clause, the association's budget was tripled and quadrupled. In both 2002 and 2003 the association received NIS 150,000; in 2004 the funding leaped to NIS 268,000 and in 2005 to NIS 286,000. All told, the association has received about NIS 850,000 from the Education Ministry in the past four fiscal years. On top of this, in 2002-2003 the association received additional financial support from another Education Ministry unit, but this double funding was stopped.
The budget leap was accompanied by a dramatic increase in Shulamit Livnat's salary. In 1999 her salary's annual cost to the government was NIS 73,116, and in 2003 it reached NIS 112,000 - nearly NIS 7,000 a month to the mother of the education minister from the budget of the Education Ministry, following a decision by the education minister.
Requests for budgetary support are examined by Education Ministry personnel and then passed on for the authorization of a ministry committee that decides which bodies to support. The committee, appointed by the education minister, consists of three ministry officials as well as the ministry's comptroller and legal adviser, or their representatives. Did they know of the connection between Shulamit Livnat, who applied for support, and her daughter the minister? The Education Ministry refused to make the minutes of the unit's meeting available to Haaretz.
Shulamit Livnat confirms she did not advise the committee that she is the minister's mother. Education Ministry Director General Ronit Tirosh says she did not authorize the funding, but rather a wing in her office did. Did she know her boss's mother was the director of the association? "I was not familiar with the association, hence I did not know who its director was," says Tirosh.
According to the treasury's accountant general's figures, during the four years since Livnat introduced the budgetary clause, the association run by her mother has received the largest budget. All told, three other bodies also received funding on the basis of this clause. Two of them are indirectly connected to the minister.
Other associations engaged in fostering Israel's heritage did not receive support on the basis of this budget clause, whether because they were unaware it existed or because its wording rendered them ineligible.
Attorney Yehuda Resler, an expert on public law, says, "Since Limor Livnat knew her mother directs an association devoted to the undergrounds, she should have refrained from having anything to do with the regulation and not initiated it. If she only signed it, she should have informed all the relevant bodies - the [Knesset] Finance Committee, the [Education Ministry's] supports committee and the ministry personnel - that her mother runs the college and not have taken part in any discussion. Even then, if her mother benefits from directing the college, she should have informed the whole world about this and told everyone that she was disengaging from the subject, and backed away from it."
Attorney Avigdor Klagsbald commented for minister Livnat: "First, the rules to prevent conflicts of interests for ministers and deputy ministers ... were not valid when my client was appointed education minister. Second, my client has not made any decision regarding the Rina Mor National College ... Now that the new rules to prevent conflict of interest have been brought to my client's attention, she has approached the attorney general."