Shas’ ATM

Budget of Religious Services Ministry nearly doubled in a year

Budget for religious buildings grew sevenfold. Hiddush: Dismantle the ministry again

Religious Services Minister, Yaakov Margi. 24.10.2007. Photo: Michal Patal, Flash 90Religious Services Minister, Yaakov Margi. 24.10.2007. Photo: Michal Patal, Flash 90

The budget of the Ministry for Religious Services has almost doubled since the beginning of 2010. At the beginning of last year the ministry’s budget was NIS 270 million. Three “rounds” of add-ons increased the budget to NIS 510 million. The budget for developing religious buildings grew sevenfold within the space of a year, from NIS 15 million to NIS 106 million.

The Sharon-Shinui government eliminated the Ministry for Religious Affairs in 2003, among other reasons because of the numerous incidents of corruption that characterized it, and spread its departments among other ministries. At the beginning of 2008, under pressure from Shas, the ministry was reestablished under the name Ministry for Religious Services. Two of the main topics it had dealt with in the past, yeshivas and Torah culture, were not restored to its care. Despite this, the ministry’s budget grew at an unprecedented rate.

In the first term the ministry was headed by Yitzhak Cohen of Shas, today the deputy finance minister. Now the minister for religious affairs is Yaakov Margi, who is close to Shas Party chairman Eli Yishai. The 2010 budget allocated NIS 279 million to the ministry. The 2011 budget allocated NIS 373 million, an increase of NIS 94 million. About a week ago the Knesset Finance Committee added a sum of NIS 25 million for ritual bathhouses. On Tuesday it added another NIS 113 million. All in all the budget came to NIS 510 million, nearly double the sum at the beginning of 2010.

The greatest increase was in the area of developing religious buildings. The 2010 budget earmarked NIS 15 million for this purpose. The 2011 budget set aside some NIS 30 million. In this week’s transfer the budget for religious buildings was enlarged by NIS 77 million, to NIS 106 million, a sevenfold increase over the budget 14 months ago, and more

Three “rounds” of add-ons increased the budget to NIS 510 million

than triple the budget at the beginning of the year.

The religious buildings budget enables the religious parties to transfer substantial funds to non-profit associations of activists and associates. It also serves as the infrastructure for activity encouraging Jews to become devout.

In addition, the budget for religious councils grew by NIS 23 million to NIS 250 million; the budget for cemeteries grew by NIS 9 million; and the budget for wages and administration grew by NIS 2 million. The head of Hiddush – Freedom of Religion for Israel, Rabbi Uri Regev, said in response: “Nothing grows in the Israeli economy like the budget of the Ministry for Religious Services. It is a disastrous growth, because all of it serves as a prostitute’s fee paid to the religious parties in exchange for their votes, and a large share of this budget serves for distributing money to associates. As days go by, more and more budgets are coming to light that the haredi parties extorted in secret, and that were granted for the purpose of the coalition’s survival. The Religious Services Ministry is a ministry that was reborn in sin, with the objective of perpetuating Shas’ hold on religious services and funneling coalition budgets. It must be dismantled anew, to sever once and for all the corrupt link between religion and politics. Israel needs a civil coalition that will implement the promise of religious freedom in the Declaration of Independence.”

After the 2011 budget was passed, the chairman of the Finance Committee, MK Moshe Gafni, told his party’s journal. Yated Neeman: “Without a doubt this is the best budget for the haredi public ever passed by the Knesset and it takes care of the financial matters of the haredi public in all areas.” Gafni told the haredi newspaper Mishpacha: “For the haredi public this is the best budget ever presented.”

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