Israel's Treasury Plans to Close Jewish Identity Department to Cut Costs

Religious Services Ministry, which runs the administration: We weren't consulted. Finance Ministry: Our request for suggested budget reductions were ignored.

Or Kashti
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Religious Services Minister Arye Dery. Officials hope the administration will continue to function, under his auspices.
Religious Services Minister Arye Dery. Officials hope the administration will continue to function, under his auspices.Credit: Michal Fattal
Or Kashti
Or Kashti

Israel’s proposed 2015-16 budget calls for cancelation of the Religious Services Ministry’s Jewish Identity Administration. The administration’s founding two years ago was considered one of the major accomplishments of Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett.

His party announced Monday that the responsibility for the administration would shift to Shas chairman Arye Dery, whose party now controls the ministry. According to various sources, officials there were surprised to discover the Finance Ministry’s intention to close the administration, and they said discussions about it are still ongoing. If it is indeed closed, it is unclear what will be the fate of the programs it is already operating.

The budget proposal states that the administration is to be closed because of the need to save the state 5 million shekels ($1.3 million).

Commented one Habayit Hayehudi member: “Minister Dery knew how to stand up on the gas issue, and we trust him that he will stand up to the treasury no less over the Jewish identity issue.

According to sources familiar with the issue, closure the Jewish Identity Administration was not coordinated with the Religious Services Ministry.

"This is the treasury’s unilateral attempt to dictate to the ministry what to do. Someone in the treasury decided to create facts on the ground, and didn’t even bother to update us,” said a source at the ministry. “The administration may be associated with Bennett and Habayit Hayehudi, but Shas intended to use it for its needs by altering the thrust of its activities.”

For its part, the Finance Ministry commented that its budget division asked the ministries what they would be prepared to cut to keep in line with general, across-the-board budgetary reductions.

“Because the Religious Services Ministry did not respond to the treasury’s questions, the budget division was forced to decide on its own where to cut from,” the ministry stated.

While the treasury stated that the savings would total 5 million shekels, that sum refers to its initial budget from 2013 – which grew to 21 million shekels in 2014.

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