Who Gave the Settlers the Money?

The public has the right to know the total amounts that were transferred to the settlement enterprise.

Just like someone who was in the same boat with all his friends until he argued with them, left the group and started to rock the boat, the ultra-Orthodox party leaders are now speaking out and sullying the names of the settlers' representatives in the outgoing Knesset. Well-known MKs from Shas and United Torah Judaism have been quoted in recent days promising to expose the improper conduct of the branches of government that represent the interests of the settler movement and channeled to it billions of shekels from the state budget. The responses to these initial revelations are minor, and deal with the twisted motivation behind the new information currently being volunteered by the Haredi parties. But these responses ignored the part played by the senior members of the civil service.

Outgoing Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni (UTJ ) told the ultra-Orthodox Yated Ne'eman newspaper that settlers receive double budgets and double entitlements. He announced that he would publicize the double funding of army-affiliated hesder yeshivas and the billions transferred to settlements. He made similar statements at a meeting of the UTJ faction in the Knesset on March 5. The Haredi weekly Mishpacha contained a description of the opaque financing channels through which large sums were transferred to the settlement enterprise. This juicy information, which until now was the stuff of rumors and guesses, is now starting to almost take on an official tone from members of the outgoing coalition that had been keeping the secret. Shas and United Torah Judaism MKs, frustrated by the pressures imposed on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to choose Habayit Hayehudi and Yesh Atid over them, are speaking out: They are shining a light on the money trail that winds from the treasury to the settlers.

A handful of articles in the press and a flood of comments online criticized the Haredi MKs: Those who participated in this process are not worthy of the respect or trust of the public since they only decide to reveal their cards when they no longer have anything left to lose, or because they have a burning desire for revenge. Feelings of guilt or a desire to do what is best for the country are not motivating the Haredi parties to provide this vital information to the public. They do this out of anger at being left out of the next coalition, and because they have been insulted at being labeled as vampires sucking the funds from the state coffers. Those missing from the picture are the senior officials in the ministries concerned, who let this shameful, slippery process continue for many long years.

The code of public administration, as well as the decisions made by official commissions of inquiry, distinguishes between ministerial responsibility and the individual responsibility of those who hold senior roles in the civil service. The individual responsibility of a public official, however, is much more clearly identified when his conduct creates a clear link to the faulty result. Thus, for example, in the distant past the Agranat Commission distinguished between the responsibility of the top levels of the IDF in the failures of the Yom Kippur War, and the responsibility of the political leadership. An example of an opposite case that occurred in recent years was the special responsibility the state comptroller assigned to ministers Eli Yishai and Yuval Steinitz for their part in determining the firefighting services' list of priorities. The state comptroller saw this as having a direct impact upon the service's performance during the Carmel forest fire disaster.

Even if a precise division between the two types of responsibility isn't always possible, and is often controversial (as demonstrated by the cases of the Agranat Commission and the state comptroller's report on the Carmel fire ), there is no doubt that the public has the right to demand accountability from civil servants over failed conduct. Where, therefore, are all the senior officials at the Finance Ministry, the Housing and Construction Ministry, Education Ministry, Interior Ministry and the rest of the government organizations who helped the transfer of underground funds to the settlers? The accountants, the treasurers, the internal auditors, the department heads and all those filling other senior positions who transferred billions of shekels to Jewish settlers in the territories in cunning ways and through hidden channels should stand up and be counted.

The public has the right to know the total amounts that were transferred to the settlement enterprise; what portion of them were transferred with authority and permission and what false pretexts and misleading excuses were used; and who from the state apparatus gave their approval and lent a helping hand. Such an investigation may cross the thin line between personal responsibility and ministerial responsibility and enable to hold to account - both legally and publicly - the politicians and officials who have had such a significant effect upon Israel's situation and upon the severity of the problems it faces.