Jewish National Fund to Fund Parties, Organizations Against Its Charter

Zvi Zrahiya
Zvi Zrahiya
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JNF-Arava Medical Center, October 7, 2015Credit: Jewish National Fund
Zvi Zrahiya
Zvi Zrahiya

The Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael) board of directors on Thursday allocated 18 million shekels ($4.65 million) to various religious factions, political parties and other organizations, a huge jump over similar allocations made in 2015. Board members said the allocation paved the way for the passage of the entire JNF budget of 920 million shekels.

The 18-million-shekel allocation contravenes the objectives of the organization as enshrined in the JNF charter. This was known to the board members who voted in favor of it, since retired judge Uri Shtruzman, who heads the JNF’s external audit committee, objected to the allocation. The coalition representatives on the board, together with those of Zionist Union and the religious streams, plan to get the charter changed to allow this allocation.

Of the 18 million shekels, 2 million will go to political parties represented in the national institutions, such as Likud, Labor, Yisrael Beiteinu and Meretz. Another 3 million will go to Zionist organizations represented on the board, like WIZO, Na’amat, Hadassah, Maccabi and the Sephardi Federation.

International youth movements, including those affiliated with the Reform and Conservative movements, will get 6.5 million shekels, while each of the major religious streams – Orthodox, Reform and Conservative – will get between 2 million and 2.2 million shekels each for a total of 6.5 million shekels. In 2015 the three streams got only 1.5 million shekels each, while in 2012 the three split a million shekels among them.

Shtruzman had warned against the allocation to all these bodies, stating, “The [board’s] finance committee cannot and should not approve the transfer of funds that are not for the World Zionist Federation, the Jewish Agency, the Osim Tzionut movement or the Zionist Archives, because it isn’t authorized to do so.”

In his letter to finance committee chairman Hernan Felman of World Likud, he added, “There’s nothing to stop the finance committee from debating any issue that suits it even if it is being discussed by the audit committee but to make a decision that contradicts the audit committee’s opinion and in our case is also against the law, is in my opinion unworthy and even forbidden, and is liable get those involved mixed up in legal claims.”

At a meeting of the board’s finance committee, which preceded Thursday’s meeting of the full board, committee members also were given a letter from JNF’s cochairman Uzi Landau, who also opposed the direct allocation of funds to these groups over Shtruzman’s objections.

The 920-million-shekel budget represents a cut from last year’s 1.125 billion shekels. There is apparently a plan to make an across-the-board cut of 39 million shekels from various cooperative ventures.

The proposal to amend the charter of the JNF, which is a public benefit corporation, broadens the objectives of the organization to setting up tourism initiatives and allowing the transfer of funds to religious streams and organizations.

The JNF responded by saying it is “in the midst of an in-depth process of streamlining the organization and increasing transparency, [of passing] a budget that for the first time in history will be transparent and will reflect only the values of Zionist education and core values championed by KKL-JNF, and of conducting ourselves on the basis of clear and strict regulations and criteria. As such, every decision that relates to the KKL-JNF budget is made on a solely professional basis, aimed at instilling responsible financial management.

“Unfortunately there are those who are not pleased by the changes and are doing all they can to put sticks in the wheels of the rehabilitation process led by the new management under Chairman Danny Atar. These people, among other things, are feeding the media partial and false information.”

Gilad Kariv, the executive director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, was supportive of the allocations. “For the first time it was decided to transparently transfer budgets to all the streams, organizations and [political] alliances, and an effort was made to stop making payments only to those who were close to the kitty,” he said. The funding “was for educational activities by the streams and the organizations both in Israel and abroad.”

The JNF budget gives Atar’s bureau 3 million shekels for seven employees and three vehicles, while Landau’s bureau is budgeted at 1.4 million shekels for three employees and two vehicles.

Yisrael Goldstein, chairman of the KKL-JNF workers’ committee, wrote to the board complaining that under the organization’s collective agreement, the chairmen’s bureaus are meant to have no more than four employees each.