Tel Aviv Considers Leaving State-run Jewish Identity Program

South Tel Aviv coordinator complained about Jewish girls marrying Arabs in the past and urged residents not to rent to migrant workers.

Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett addresses the press, December 21, 2015.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Tel Aviv municipality is considering ending its cooperation with the government’s Jewish Identity Administration and launching its own Jewish renewal program in its stead, in order to ensure that both the content and the teachers reflect a spectrum of Jewish opinion.

One of the reasons behind its dissatisfaction with the administration is the predominance of activists from the religious-Zionist Habayit Hayehudi party in its ranks.

People affiliated with the party have been appointed to serve as “community Jewish identity coordinators” for the administration, which is part of the Religious Services Ministry, and the person running the program in Tel Aviv is the chairman of Habayit Hayehudi’s Bat Yam chapter.

The municipality said it supports religious pluralism and would like both Orthodox and non-Orthodox viewpoints to be represented in its programs, “from the standpoint of both the content and the people responsible for conveying it.”

One of the first programs of the administration, which was founded during the previous government when Naftali Bennett was also Religious Services minister, was to employ Jewish identity coordinators. These coordinators, who began operating in Tel Aviv a few months ago, conduct programs aimed primarily at teaching Jewish heritage and values to secular people. Municipal funding for the progam has been limited to 7,500 shekels ($1,950.)

“This financial division is very tempting,” said a source familiar with the issue. “The local authority is asked for a small sum and in exchange receives large-scale activity. The problem is that there are no free lunches.”

Some 35 Jewish identity coordinators are active in about 60 towns. According to the Finance Ministry, the program has cost some 5.7 million shekels since 2014, with the cost split between the Jewish Identity Administration and the Or Torah Stone organization.

The Tel Aviv program is run by Rabbi Itay Kramer, who headed Habayti Hayehudi’s ticket in the Bat Yam municipal elections in 2013. The person running it in south Tel Aviv is Rabbi Yuval Alpert, who complained in an interview with Arutz Sheva radio a few years ago that Jewish-Arab activities in Jaffa lead to “Jewish girls marrying Arabs.” He has also signed a letter urging people not to rent apartments to migrant workers.

Another senior appointee, Rabbi Eran Younger, sparked fierce opposition from residents when he did similar work in Ramat Aviv.

The Religious Services Ministry said all program-related decisions “are made on a legal and professional basis.” The program’s activities are “open and diversified, and stress providing a response to the needs and characteristics of each community,” it continued, and they have “no political context.”