Companies Giving to Health Minister's ultra-Orthodox Sect Won Lucrative Health Ministry Business

Four companies cited by TheMarker who donated to the Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman's Ger Hasidic sect deny there was any impropriety

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Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman at a Knesset meeting in Jerusalem, November 24, 2019.
Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman at a Knesset meeting in Jerusalem, November 24, 2019.Credit: Emil Salman

Four privately owned companies that have won Health Ministry contracts in recent years also contributed to the Ger Hasidic court, to which Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman belongs.

The companies deny there is any connection between their contributions and the awarding of the contracts, but an investigation by TheMarker shows that they were made close to or at the same time they were doing business with the ministry.

Femi Premium, a company that provides services to health insurers and public institutions, donated 50,000 shekels ($14,400) in 2015 to the nonprofit group Refuah V’Yeshuah, which is affiliated with the Ger sect.

In May the same year, Avi Dejdak – community coordinator for the company, whose responsibilities included encouraging vaccinations in the Haredi community – was named an adviser for Litzman, who is the effective head of the ministry despite holding the formal title of deputy minister.

Femi Premium had previously won contracts awarded through competitive bidding from the Health Ministry. In 2016 it was awarded another one, this time for telemedical services worth 6 million shekels, of which 5.3 million has already been paid out. The ministry confirmed that the company was the only bidder.

The ministry says it had sought bids to develop the technological infrastructure for a nationwide system of telemedical services. “At the time there weren’t vendors that could offer systems like these, so we thought that the ministry’s involvement would encourage the creation of a vendors market in Israel,” it said, explaining why there was only a single bidder.

Since then Femi Premium has participated in other Health Ministry tenders: In 2016 it won a 2.5 million shekel contract for services to the Bedouin sector, in 2017 a 4 million contract for rehabilitating the mentally handicapped and another worth 2 million to operate a healthcare rights center.

“Every year we contribute money and volunteers to aid the sick, disabled and needy,” responded Femi Premium, which also provides services to the education and culture ministries.

“When a request for a donation and/or volunteers comes in, whether it is a direct request from a nonprofit or a recommendation from one of the company’s employees, we evaluate it by only two criteria: whether it is within the social framework of Femi Premium and its employees that year, and whether we can be sure the funds will be used as designated.],” the company said.

Tiferet Ha’ir, which deals in real estate management and upkeep, donated 254,000 shekels in 2017 and 208,000 in 2016 to the Union of Ger Institutions.

Starting in 2015, a year before its first donation, the company won a 173,000-shekel contract to lease and buy parking facilities in places that included the Tiferet Ha’Ir Mall in Petah Tikva. The mall mainly serves as doctors’ offices for the Maccabee health maintenance organization as well as for Health Ministry and as an emergency medicine center.

Tiferet Ha’ir is owned by two companies, one of which is called Lev Romema. In the years 2014-17 Lev Romema contributed to the Ger Union about 600,000 shekels, bringing the group’s total contributions to more than 1 million shekels.

A. Barazani Transport, a bus operator, gave a one-time donation to the union of 105,000 shekels in 2017. A year later it won a Health Ministry contract to deliver samples of fresh produce from border crossings to public health laboratories to check for dangerous bacteria.

Two other bidders participated in the tender, but no other transportation company made a contribution to the Ger Union that year or before in excess of 20,000 shekels.

The contract was worth 63,000 shekels, of which 54,000 has already been paid out. Starting in 2017 Barzani won other contract from other ministries, including one to transport immigrants arriving at Ben-Gurion International Airport.

“We have no connection with Ger or Litzman,” said Alon Barzani, the company’s owner, in response.

“It’s a small contract of a few thousand shekels.” He said the donation was the first ever made to the Ger sect. “We [donate to] a lot of institutions – special education, yeshivot, everyone – not just Ger.” Barzani said he wasn’t aware of Litzman’s Ger affiliation and described the contract win a year after his contribution as a “coincidence.”

Genius Systems, which is a vendor to many ministries and is exempt from competitive bidding because it provides a unique software package for statistical analysis, gave 30,000 shekels to the Ger World Center, a nonprofit that runs the giant sect’s beit midrash in Jerusalem.

“We’re involved with Ger hasidism,” said Jacky Lipskier, co-CEO and co-owner of Genuis. “We contribute to them privately and through the company. We’re a private company and we can contribute to whom we want.”

The four are among a long list of companies, among them drinks company Tempo and food importer Neto, that are regulated by the Health Ministry and that TheMarker revealed in September had made donations to Ger institutions.

In response to TheMarker’s newest report, the ministry said the contracts were awarded through regular procedures managed by the tenders committee.

“This is a recycled list of baseless allegations whose sole purpose is to defame the ministry and the person who leads it. There is not and was not any connection between donations from commercial businesses to Ger institutions and the deputy minister of health or contracts with the Health Ministry.”