State prosecutors are set to file criminal charges against the former head of the Chief Rabbinate’s import departments for allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of shekels in bribes.
Rabbi Yitzchak Arazi, who headed the unit responsible for certifying the kashrut of all foreign food products (except for meat) since 1997, allegedly spent years trading preferential treatment for large sums of cash, alcohol and gifts.
His office set guidelines and approved the importation of food from around the world, giving him significant leverage over suppliers. Some 10 importers are also expected to face indictments.
Arazi is likely the unnamed top official in the Chief Rabbinate’s kashrut inspection arm that Israeli media reported was arrested late last year on suspicion of accepting bribes. At the time, police said there is no suspicion that nonkosher foods were sold in Israel under pretenses of being kosher, but only that the approval process for products imported by companies or individuals that offered kickbacks was expedited.
Investigators raided the homes and offices of the suspects, and reportedly found hundreds of thousands of shekels in cash. The investigation was conducted jointly by the Israel Police’s anti-graft unit Lahav 433, Tax Authority officials and the State Prosecution’s economic crimes division.
After the arrests, the Hebrew-language Walla news site quoted a rabbinate official slamming the suspects over the allegations, saying their alleged crimes had slowed the approval process for all imported foods. “Every citizen [of Israel] paid out of their pockets for these bribes. It delayed [kashrut approval for] all other products,” the official was quoted as saying.
A 2017 State Comptroller’s report slammed what it described as a corrupt kosher supervision process, noting that some supervisors were receiving pay for hours they did not work. One supervisor was reportedly paid for working 27 hours a day. There were also widespread reports of nepotism.