Amid reports that the attorney-general is to investigate the transfer of hundreds of millions of shekels to settlements at a chaotic meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee earlier this month, a committee member said MKs who approved the funding had no idea what they were voting for.
In an interview with The Times of Israel, Yesh Atid Knesset member Dov Lipman said the December 8 committee meeting marked the moment it became clear to him that the Netanyahu-led government was determined to allocate as much money as possible to the settlement enterprise, and to do so without transparency if necessary.
Yedioth Ahronoth reported Monday that Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has begun investigating the allocations that were approved by the committee in the immediate aftermath of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s sacking of finance minister Yesh Atid and justice minister Tzipi Livni.
Lipman, who said the proceedings represented an abuse of democracy, described in detail how the votes came about, said he tried in vain to stop the process, and explained that the chairman of the committee, Jewish Home’s Nissan Slomiansky, pushed through item after item even though opposition members protested that they did not know where the money was going and that they were not even being given time to vote. The chaotic meeting featured a series of bitter confrontations; Labor’s Stav Shaffir was kicked out of the room three times.
The only American-born member of the outgoing Knesset, Rabbi Lipman was appointed to the influential finance panel last spring. He said that normally members on a Thursday “receive a huge amount of documents for all the money transfers that are going to happen in the next week, on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, in our meetings. We have time to review them. We can ask questions. The [relevant officials] are required to answer the questions. It’s a very good policy that the [former] finance minister [Yesh Atid leader Lapid] worked out with the chairman of the committee, Nissan Slomiansky from Jewish Home. It worked for a year and eight months.”
After Netanyahu fired Lapid on December 2, however, said Lipman, “we woke up the morning of the next committee meeting and there were huge amounts of documents, including huge amounts of money, going to the settlements. I’m willing to analyze everything and see what it’s for. Is it for security needs? What is it for?” But there was no time for such checking in this case. “I woke up at 6 o’clock in the morning and the vote was at 9 o’clock in the morning. There’s no way you can be prepared. They changed the whole approach — what I call of transparency. You know, clean governing — with huge amounts of money going to the settlements.”
Added Lipman: “That was the first time that I felt — wow, you know, if it wasn’t for the center bloc, so to speak, in the government, monitoring it, I don’t know what would happen with all this money. I’m not against money going towards needs. People have needs. There are schools and there is security. But we have no ability in three hours to analyze all that. And that was the first time that I saw with my own eyes that there’s definitely an agenda to try to get as much money as possible [to the settlements], but also without transparency. You don’t know where the money’s going to, you don’t know what it’s going for, and that’s troubling.”
Lipman said hundreds of millions were allocated to the settlements and “we couldn’t stop it. There was no way to stop it. I kept saying, ‘I didn’t even vote.’ I kept on asking, ‘I don’t know what [this is].’ And they were reading it. The way it was done, if anybody from the outside saw this meeting, that was a moment where I said, the people of Israel need to have a better understanding of what goes on over here. Because they were voting on things without even knowing. I was trying to keep up with the numbers.”
Asked how the allocations were described in the paperwork given to MKs, Lipman said, “It just said, ‘for the settlement division,’ without really explaining for what. I kept saying, ‘For what? I don’t have any information.’ They were just voting.”
The allocations were placed on the agenda by the finance minister, “who at that point was Netanyahu,” said Lipman. “From my understanding, these were things that [Yesh Atid’s Lapid had previously] held up. They were never brought to the committee. The finance minister never [previously] released it to go to the committee because of the process of figuring out what’s what and what it’s going for and the like.”
Asked whether he considered the voting process an abuse of democracy, Lipman replied: “Correct. What bothers me is also, if you had asked the people around the table if they knew where [the money] was going, they wouldn’t… The chairman of the committee put it up for votes and they voted for it. They said, ‘[Item] number 697, 791…'”
(A further 12 million shekels was allocated to settlements in another stormy meeting on December 21.)
Asked what the experience indicated for him about Netanyahu’s orientation, Lipman said, “I’d say it’s pretty clear that he’s in the more extreme leaning and extreme-moving right. He’s managing it by saying certain things in the right way, here and there, ‘We’re trying to…,’ but not actually taking us somewhere. And I believe that it’s dangerous for the security of Israel. Dangerous for the security of Israel. That’s not what we want.”
Without in any way compromising its security needs, said Lipman, Israel needs to “have a vision of where we’re heading. That’s why when people do attack me, especially in the religious community, I say to them, What’s your plan? What’s your plan? What’s your plan to deal with the situation? We have a situation. [The Palestinians] are here. We’re in the same land. And if your answer is, Continue this way, we have control over all the land and they’re second-class citizens, I say that’s not a Jewish state. It’s not a Jewish state.”
Lipman stressed that, overall on the settlement issue, “we in Yesh Atid believe very strongly that Israel should be strengthening the major blocs, but not continuing to do anything in the isolated settlements.”
(The full interview with MK Dov Lipman will appear later this week.)