For the second time in as many weeks, Economy and Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett came under fire Monday over an accusation that he has been using his position to funnel money to associates.
Citing reports in the Israeli media last week, United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni accused Bennett, who is the chairman of the right-wing Jewish Home party, of awarding NIS 2 million ($570,000) to the project Close to the Heart, run by the head of Jewish Home’s election committee, Rabbi Daniel Tropper.
“This has been an ongoing policy of Minister Bennett and members of Jewish Home, acting as the most sectarian party in the Knesset that cares only for its people and not for all of Israel,” Gafni wrote in a letter to the state comptroller, calling for an investigation into Bennett’s activities.
Tropper responded to the reports on Friday, saying that “even though it may look bad, there is nothing illegal about it, as we are talking about a joint venture of Keren Kehilot, which has overseen such issues in the past,” according to Channel 10. The Close to the Heart project was aimed at strengthening relationships between secular and religious Jews.
In a statement, the Religious Affairs Ministry said that there was no political motivation behind the agreement, that it had been approved by professionals and that an official contract had yet to be signed.
Gafni also pointed to a ruling by the Jerusalem District Court last week that invalidated a tender awarded by the Religious Affairs Ministry to an advertising agency that managed Bennett’s personal election campaign as well as that of his party.
The Gal Oren firm was awarded the tender to run logistics for the upcoming sabbatical year even though its proposal was NIS 1.66 million ($477,000) higher than the next highest bid and did not meet the criteria set by the ministry, according to the Haaretz daily. The criteria primarily related to the administration of religious services, but the ministry appeared to award the tender to Gal Oren based on its background in marketing and advertising.
The lawsuit was filed by Uman Religious Services Ltd., which also applied for the tender.
“It is hard to ignore that the decision of the subcommittee to include advertising, marketing, printing, event production, book publishing, mapping and similar [criteria] was the result of a bid by Gal Oren,” the judge said in his ruling.
The Religious Affairs Ministry did not take issue with the judge’s ruling, but was quick to point out that in his ruling, the judge “rejected the claim that there was any improper relationship or bias with Gal Oren,” according to Haaretz.