It’s been noted here, there and everywhere, that the Melbourne Jewish community, as a general rule, continues to support the Jewish National Fund and the United Israel Appeal, despite widely available evidence of corruption and embezzlement in those organisations. Here are two items from mainstream Hebrew media, both by Raviv Drucker, detailing the extent of the problem. The first is from 2015, the second was published earlier this month, following the disappointing report of the auditor-general:
“The JNF – the height of corruption and decay” by Raviv Drucker
Haaretz 5/7/15 http://www.haaretz.co.il/opinions/1.2675668
[The JNF has admitted to wasting money for no reason, promising each time to try to get it back. Drucker investigated these efforts. He cites some examples: a bizarre Ukrainian TV station that received millions of shekels from JNF, though was no longer broadcasting anything, still hasn’t returned the money. It was only after Drucker’s query that legal steps were actually taken, ten days before this article was published. A production company that promised to produce movies about Zionism for the JNF, and received over a million shekels, has yet to do so. JNF promised to act to get the money back, but nothing has happened so far. Over two years ago, after already transferring the money, the JNF announced it will not participate in funding Bill Clinton’s visit to Israel for Shimon Peres’ 90th birthday. Ten months later it turned out almost half of those funds were never returned, nearly 250K dollars. JNF said: we’ve initiated an arbitration to get the money back. Still nothing.]
These are only a few examples from the most corrupt and rotten organisation I’ve ever encountered. Some say, hang on a minute. Why are you shaming the Zionist Histadrut, and the Jewish Agency, and the United Israel Appeal. But the JNF is alone at the top. There is no other organisation like it, with comparable amounts of money – in the billions, that doesn’t have to do anything to gain even more wealth, and has no firm principles guiding its expenditure.
Avi Gabai, Minister for Environmental Protection, was recently entrusted with the JNF case. He was meant to consolidate recommendations to the government, especially since the JNF’s punishment to the country is due to take effect this month, in response to the State’s bizarre intention to start taking over the immense income derived by the JNF from land management. The JNF is due to take its lands back (approximately 12% of Israeli land!), to become the largest real estate agency in the country, and to start marketing those lands independently. God help us.
Kulanu MKs Moshe Kahlon and Gabai think that the more rotten the JNF, the more one can expect the Israeli land authority to be no less corrupt. At least let there be some competition. The thought that JNF’s chairpersons Efi Stenzler and Eli Aflalo would stand behind the planning and marketing of the most precious lands in the country sends shivers down my spine. The Zionist Congress meets in October. Of course, all the news about Stenzler and Aflalo makes them not even consider running for another term. They wasted hundreds of millions of shekels on politicians and various organisations for moments exactly like this.
Firstly, Stenzler needs Labor’s support, i.e. the Yitzhak Herzog’s backing. Usually a politician with leadership aspirations would stay away given such discoveries. But Herzog won’t let a little scandal, or even a big one, drag him into a confrontation with Stenzler. Senior Labor officials say Herzog is planning a ‘situation report’, the sterile term for everyone staying in office. So the JNF wastes our money? Is that really a reason to change the ‘situation’?
The Prime Minister has also been asked to decide what to do with the JNF. As absurd as it sounds, we may have to hang our hopes on Bibi. He doesn’t owe Stenzler anything, and might fall in love with the idea that the ruling party would have control over the cash cow. And then, will it be any better? Honestly, I don’t know. I do know that following the complete insanity that has operated throughout the JNF over the past four years, Stenzler and Aflalo must go.
“The Auditor-General’s report on the JNF: that took a three year investigation?” by Raviv Drucker
nana10 18/1/17 http://news.nana10.co.il/Article/?ArticleID=1228367
After “Hamakor” broadcast the report on the JNF in April 2014, the Auditor-General decided to get involved. For me, this was good news. The Auditor-General has limited capacity to audit the JNF, but it was better than nothing. The office appointed a serious person for the job, Aharon Hillinger, who invited me for a meeting at the auditor-general’s office.
During the meeting Hillinger and his crew made it clear they would find it difficult to deal with the bulk of JNF’s activity. Legal restrictions, resulting from the fact that the state audit does not apply to the JNF. They won’t be dealing with the insane amounts of money wasted by media advisors and various spokespeople, nor with the unbelievable retainer collected by a never-ending list of lawyers, nor with the hundreds of millions of shekels given to various organisations and associations, sometimes for obvious reasons.
I matched the auditor-general’s people with two very important people (once they’d consented, of course) and they virtually became the engine behind the auditor-general’s report. Those people later became known to the JNF, which then started to harass them. Obviously. You’d expect nothing more from the JNF.
They sought the help of the auditor-general’s office. The latter didn’t lend a hand and failed its basic duties. At a certain point I called Hillinger and said “How can you do this? If you can’t expose corruption at least write a serious letter to the new chairman of the JNF”. Hillinger started explaining that I don’t understand, it’s not like that and there are restrictions and limitations and there will not be such a letter.
It doesn’t happen often, but I lost my cool. I told Hillinger what I thought about their behaviour, which seemed to me then, as it does today, the most explicit expression of abandoning their duty to expose corruption. The conversation did not end well and sadly and without connection to that conversation, the auditor-general’s report on the JNF ended even worse.
Three years of inquiry, headlines and leaks and the bottom line is most disappointing. Firstly, it’s clear that most of the officeholders mentioned by the report are no longer there. Not chairman Efi Stenzler, nor his colleague and co-chairman Eli Aflalo, nor CEO Meir Spiegler. Secondly, the auditor-general’s crew failed to flesh out and get at the reasons for all the bizarre findings.
Don’t get me wrong, this report would shake any other organisation. A few people playing with massive amounts of money as though it was theirs. The report describes the corruption in the JNF, the way the fund receives about a billion shekels each year for what the State does with its lands, but reinvests only a third of its budget into projects.
The report shows the absence of criteria, protocols, chairman Stenzler traveling through Holon or Shenkar and deciding on the spot, like some Santa Claus, to give away money, without any proper documentation or anything else. The thing is that similar facts were made public three years ago, of far more severe cases. That’s what you needed three years for?
The report describes at length the strange and problematic budgetary allowances that occurred across many projects. The garden at the Ichilov Hospital, a project in Afula and others, but no answer is given to the most interesting question – why? Why does Eli Aflalo go out of his way to commit funds to Ichilov and does it have anything to do with his personal life?
Rightly so, the report deals extensively with the conflicts of interest between the directors. There are 37 directors in the JNF, each one channelling funds for his own baby. CEO of the Or Yehuda City Council for his municipality, vice mayor of the Acre City Council, Ze’ev Neuman, for his city, and so on. It’s bad, and it’s problematic, and it’s good that it’s been floated by the auditor-general, but so much worse about the JNF has already been made public, that this pales in comparison.
Current chairperson, Dani Atar, has taken steps towards cleansing the JNF of corruption. An external audit committee headed by retired judge Uri Shtruzman, has been appointed, and a retired regional judge is meant to arrive and serve as a supreme legal authority. Atar has also offered a certain reputable person to serve as internal auditor. And most importantly, Atar reached an agreement with the State about full applicability of the State’s audit on the JNF. Does this mean the stables have been cleaned? Absolutely not.
Take one example: for a while now there have been whispers in the halls of the JNF about a scandal surrounding a JNF director named Moshe Dabush. The man in question is a Labor man under suspicion of being involved with private land deals with a sister company of the JNF called Himanuta, of which he was director (until the end of 2015). In order to promote these deals, he uses his weight as director, while also putting workers under severe pressure to promote the deals in which he’s more interested.
Judge Shtruzman wrote a harsh report about him, recommending not to reappoint as director of Himanuta, due to the conflict of interests in which he seemingly finds himself. Simultaneously, a not so sympathetic recording is doing the rounds, in which Dabush is heard speaking about his business deals with someone he’s indebted to, and about the pressure he’s putting on Himanuta’s employees.
Dabush’s actions are some of the most infamous in the JNF. Everyone is familiar with his manner, which lacks any decorum when someone stands in his way, to put it mildly. Meanwhile, not one person in the JNF has had the courage to show him the way out.
At the same time, the dear friends Zeev Elkin and Yariv Levin are physically preventing the implementation of the State’s audit on the JNF. After decades of resistance, the JNF has finally agreed. The government was meant to confirm the relevant deal, in what seemed to be a formal confirmation, till Levin and Elkin insisted for some reason to bolster the theory that those to the Right don’t care as much about ethics, and that they are not prepared for us to know what happens in the JNF.
The truth is, it’s possible you cannot cleanse the JNF. When an organisation has so much money on one hand, and so little justification to exist on the other, what are the odds that the money won’t pool in the wrong places?
[The article ends with: The JNF’s response – “Himanuta Pty. Ltd., a sister company of the JNF that deals with land, has undergone radical changes since 2016, concerned with anything related to corporate structure, including” – and continues to list an exhaustive array of corporate restructure plans and ideas.]