NGOs Accuse Lapid of Bias Against Religious Groups

Say finance minister won’t approve gov’t aid reforms ‘for political reasons’; warn of walk-outs by ‘thousands’ of execs.

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The Israel Civilian Leadership Association, the umbrella organization of non-governmental organizations, has accused Finance Minister Yair Lapid of denying state support to religious and ultra-Orthodox organizations “for political reasons.”

Attorney Ophir Katz warned that Lapid’s refusal to approve the agreements reached between the NGOs and government officials will lead to the introduction of “a Draconian procedure that could cause the collapse of thousands of NGOs.” The new procedure is due to go into effect on March 1.

A sharply-worded letter signed by some 150 NGOs and groups was sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week, urging him to intervene to prevent the NGOs’ collapse.

About a year ago, then Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz introduced a procedure for allocating government support, which considerably toughened the conditions for obtaining funds and tightened the supervision on using them.

The procedure requires NGOs’ executive members and CEOs to put up personal collateral for the aid money, imposes heavy fines without the possibility of a hearing, and introduces impossible timetables for financial reports, according to NGO leaders.

In recent months the leaders of the non-profit sector have discussed the situation with representatives of the justice, education and finance ministries, as well as the prime minister’s representatives.

“We got all the NGOs together, including the religious ones, and held very serious discussions with government representatives,” said Katz. “They also agreed the procedure was exaggerated and crazy.”

One of the issues the sides argued about was the support given the organizations on the basis of their own report of the number of activists they have. The report is checked by the government. This kind of aid is given to a large number of the religious and ultra-Orthodox NGOs, but also to secular ones dealing with youth at risk, for example.

The sides agreed to expand the circumstances justifying absence from NGO activity, such as reserve duty and weeklong shiva mourning periods over a death in the family (so that the organizations’ report would not be seen as false). The list detailing justified absences was submitted by the finance and education ministries and accepted by all the participants.

However, Lapid has refused for several weeks now to approve the new procedure, although his ministry’s people took part in drafting it, Katz said.

“He heard that the yeshivot were associated with it and said he wouldn’t approve anything. This means the agreements we’ve reached – like revoking the personal collateral, maintaining the right to a hearing, and others – are void and the previous procedure will come into effect,” he said.

A briefing to the NGO heads said Lapid’s refusal to approve “amendments applying mainly – but not only – to the religious sector” stems from ulterior motives.

The leaders of the umbrella organization wrote to Netanyahu that the previous procedure would be “disastrous. We’ll witness thousands of executive members walking out, because they cannot vouch personally for the debts of the NGOs they work in. The NGOs will not be able to function.”

The letter warns that “the NGOs will collapse because they won’t receive the resources required for their activity and Israeli society will bear the brunt.”

Finance Minister Yair Lapid.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

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