Rabbi Ovadia's Hanukkah Miracle

Over the last year, the Shas-affiliated cultural organization, El Hamaayan, experienced a severe crisis. The Education Ministry froze its allocations because in previous years it had received excess support. The organization was compelled to accept a recovery plan. As part of the plan, it was forced to fire some 30 employees and leave only three administrative staffers. But last week, El Hamaayan shook off its ashes, like the legendary phoenix, and came back to life.

What revived the flow of blood to the organization's arteries was a NIS 12 million allocation that came at the last minute of the 2005 budget year under the section for allocations for Jewish culture. "A Hanukkah miracle" the Shas party leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, not surprisingly referred to it as. NIS 12 million is a lot of money; El Hamaayan will use it to pay its debts to its Torah studies teachers and regional coordinators.

The workers who were not paid all year long will now receive thousands of shekels. El Hamaayan's people are Shas' potential source of activists. Now Shas will have happier activists. In this respect, the money, which arrived right on the eve of elections, can be seen as the Education Ministry's contribution to Shas' election campaign funding.

Please note: there are no procedural irregularities in this story. The funds were transferred with the approval of the head of the assistance division in the attorney general's office, attorney Amnon de Hartoch. It is the best possible approval a government allocation can obtain. The truth is that El Hamaayan would have been very happy to receive the money much sooner. But ultra-Orthodox politicians have a habit of drawing out debates over criteria for allocations for Jewish culture until the last minute, and that is exactly what happened this year, too.

In total, the Education Ministry's assistance committee distributed NIS 42 million during 2005, but only NIS 24 million was actually transferred. Some NIS 18 million has been frozen until the completion of investigations and audits of some of the organizations. El Hamaayan received the entire sum designated for it because the audit of it was completed. Four other Shas-affiliated organizations are slated to receive a total of NIS 2.5 million, but all of their funds have been frozen at this point.

The sum El Hamaayan received is three times as much as the second largest allocation, which was given to the National Religious Party's cultural organization, Maaleh (around NIS 4 million). In the past, there were large gaps between the allocations for El Hamaayan and other organizations because of the criteria designed by Shas' man in the Education Ministry, former deputy minister Shalom Nahari. However, for the last three years, Shas has not been in the coalition and therefore it is hard to place the blame on Nahari.

Nahari said in response that during the time he was at the ministry, El Hamayaan received larger sums, even as much as NIS 18 million annually. The Education Ministry said in response: "The level of support received by El Hamaayan is a function of the support test, which was approved by the attorney general, and the budget for Jewish culture, which was approved by the Knesset."

An increase in the Benizri index

The most interesting question regarding the composition of the Shas party slate for the Knesset is whether or not former minister Shlomo Benizri remains on it, even though he is expected to be indicted for accepting a bribe. Over the last few weeks, it seemed Benizri's position was in danger. But this week, a senior Shas person reported, it was decided Benizri would stay on the slate. On the other hand, it should be noted that there are still a few weeks before the slates are finalized, so Benizri could still leave it and return to it a few more times.

Several factors contributed to the decision to leave Benizri on the slate. One of the main ones is that Shas people estimate there are very few voters who would see Benizri's inclusion unfavorably. On the contrary, Shas' constituents might see his being pushed out as unfairly convicting him without a trial. Ejecting him might also create a rift between Shas and the court of the rabbi who helps people return to religious observance, Rabbi Reuven Elbaz, whom Benizri represents in the Knesset.

Elbaz has many, many supporters. Shas at the moment has no division and has no interest in stirring disagreement. With regard to what it will do if Benizri also wants to return to the cabinet, the Shas leadership prefers not to think about that just now.

Procedures or half procedures

Around a year ago, the Population Administration removed its procedures from the Internet. This took place after it turned out the procedures in question were partial and not up-to-date. The public waited for a long time for the publication of the correct, complete and updated procedures.

In the meantime, the Interior Ministry comptroller, Bracha Plaut, issued her report which found that, "Even though the procedures at the Population Administration are the basic infrastructure for providing service to the public, they are not written down by a professional body and no one is responsible for updating and publicizing them. The procedures are not formulated in a clear and unequivocal way and do not address essential issues."

Last June, the director of the Population Administration, Sassi Katzir, promised Haaretz the new procedures would be publicized on the ministry's Internet site "by the end of the month." In practice, the Population Administration's month of June was particularly long and the procedures were only uploaded to the Internet in November.

However, even after being updated, many of the procedures are very incomplete, written in bureaucratic language and incomprehensible and reveal very little about the actual procedure. "The administration publicized on the Internet all kinds of procedures that a normal person can't read," says MK Yuri Stern, who in the outgoing Knesset chaired the interior and state control committees, and in both positions dealt a lot with the Population Administration.

"It's very difficult to read material and there are gaps in the procedures," he said.

Attorney Oded Feller, of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, sent a letter to the director of the Population Administration arguing that publicizing the procedures in this format on the Interior Ministry's Internet site is "not precise and even misleading."

The ministry's most sensitive procedure is the one for canceling citizenship. However, it covers less than a page and the only significant sentence in it is: "If an Interior Ministry official is informed that an Israeli citizen or permanent resident obtained his status improperly, he will gather all the information at his disposal and forward it to the permits department." It also states that the "service does not entail payment of a fee."

There is nothing in the statement about the required proofs, the options for appealing the decision available to the citizen, the committee for canceling citizenship or the possibility of appearing before it and obtaining legal representation.

As hard as it seems, the procedure for halting the process of obtaining citizenship is even briefer. This procedure covers half a page, and all it mentions are the cases when the process of obtaining citizenship will be halted.

Three cases are listed: divorce, the separation of a couple and the death of the Israeli spouse. In other words: the procedures indicate that the foreign spouse of an Israeli citizen who was killed will automatically lose the right to Israeli citizenship. This is the case even if the spouse was killed in a terrorist attack or after years of a serious illness.

Incidentally, the procedures stipulate that the process of obtaining citizenship may also be halted if someone has informed on the applicant, but does not specify what proofs are necessary and does not determine any kind of hearing process or right to appeal.

Why is it so important for procedures to be public and transparent? Supreme Court Judge Mishael Cheshin wrote in a 1999 ruling on the status of confidential expulsion procedures: "The individual facing expulsion does not know his rights. This situation ... borders on real illegality... We have already ruled to that effect once and then again ruled that for internal directives, an essential precondition for determining and applying them ... is bringing them ... to the knowledge of the concerned parties."

The Population Administration's spokesman, Sabine Hadad said in response that the "Population Administration, as promised, publicized the procedures on the Internet site immediately after they were updated." According to Hadad, the publication included the "basis for the procedures and their significance," but "the internal and technical work of the Interior Ministry official after the request is submitted is not relevant in this case. The Association for Citizens' Rights claim that the procedures are imprecise and misleading is a populist remark and unfounded," says Hadad.

In response to Stern's claim that the procedures are incomprehensible, the Population Administration says, "We see no place to argue over claims of problems with reading comprehension."