The Diaspora Affairs Ministry, headed by the leader of the Habayit Hayehudi party, Naftali Bennett, has granted 3.2 million shekels ($818,400) in government funding without a public bidding process to Gesher, a non-profit organization whose founder, Rabbi Daniel Tropper, has had close ties to Bennett’s party.
Until recently, Tropper, who founded Gesher and currently serves as its president emeritus, also served as chairman of the Habayit Hayehudi party’s constitution committee. He was a supporter of the formation of the party, through the merger of the National Religious Party and the National Union. Founded in the 1970s, Gesher sponsors programming to bring secular and religious Israelis together.
The 3.2 million shekels is earmarked for a program to foster ties between opinion leaders in Israel with Diaspora Jewry. Under the terms of the government grant, Gesher is to provide matching funding of its own for the programming. The case of the funding to Gesher was initially disclosed by another non-profit, the Public Knowledge Workshop.
The law limits government grants to non-profits without a bidding process to sums of no more than 50,000 shekels unless, under certain circumstances, the ministry is given an exemption. Last week the Diaspora Affairs Ministry approved the transfer of the program funding without a bidding process over the initial objection of a deputy comptroller in the Prime Minister’s Office, who demanded the selection of the organization to run the program be made by public tender. Diaspora Ministry staff convinced the comptroller that Gesher was the only organization suited to operating the program, although there were reportedly professionals who at ministry meetings who noted other organizations that might be considered.
Gesher and Bennett, who is also education minister, had not provided a response by press time. The Diaspora Affairs Ministry said the program was an important joint effort and that the arrangement with Gesher was worked out “in accordance with instructions from the legal adviser based on the public tender law.”