Settler Group Asks High Court to Cover Up Its Ties to Israeli Justice Minister

Left wing NGO submitted a freedom of information request about ties between Elad and top officials, including Ayelet Shaked, in bid to shed light on contentious Jerusalem project.

Emil Salman

The right-wing NGO Elad has petitioned the High Court of Justice to prevent the disclosure of the group’s contacts with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and the ministry’s director general Emi Palmor. The information is expected to shed light on how an Elad project was approved.

The left wing NGO Ir Amim submitted a freedom of information request a few weeks ago about the ties between Elad and top Justice Ministry officials. The move followed Palmor’s intervention in favor of a large Elad building project in Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood, a formerly all-Arab neighborhood where right-wing Jewish activists have settled.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
Olivier Fitoussi

Elad has been advancing construction of the Kedem compound, a large visitors center at the entrance to the Ir David National Park, which it manages. About a year ago the National Planning Council’s appeals committee ordered Elad to reduce the size of the planned building from 16,000 square meters to 10,000.

Elad petitioned the court against the decision to downsize the building, claiming one of the appeal committee’s members, Yaron Turel, was involved in a conflict of interests. Elad said that when Turel once signed a petition against building in the settlements. The Jerusalem District court rejected the petition and charged the NGO court expenses.

After this failure by Elad, a member of the National Planning Council – Amit Sofer, the representative of the local councils and head of the Regional Council Merom Hagalil – submitted a request for another discussion of the issue at the council.

While such requests are generally denied out of hand, in this case Palmor replaced the ministry’s representative at the council, who supported reducing the Elad building’s size, and came herself to the meeting at Sofer’s request, which was approved. When the council discussed the project at a later date it overturned the appeals committee’s decision and restored the building to its original size.

Ir Amim submitted a freedom of information request to the Justice Ministry, asking who had approached Shaked or the ministry about Elad’s plan. It also asked if Shaked or senior ministry officials had met any person or official associated with the plan, and if so, what had been said at those meetings.

The ministry said Ir Amim’s request pertains to details about a third party, who could be harmed by their disclosure “so we are asking him for his position.” The third party is the plan’s entrepreneur, Elad, which was told about Ir Amim’s freedom of information request.

The Justice Ministry denied Elad’s request not to disclose any information to Ir Amim and earlier this week the ministry told Ir Amim that the “third party” had petitioned against releasing the information. Ir Amim said in response, “While the justice minister is pushing the NGOs bill, intended to persecute human rights groups acting transparently for the public, the right wing NGOs, which are close to those in power, want to continue working in the dark. We’ll continue to act to expose the moves that led to approving a monstrous compound adjacent to the Old City’s walls, which will change the face of Old Jerusalem and its surroundings.”

Neither the Justice Ministry nor Elad would comment.