State disqualifies ultra-Orthodox ‘cartel’ from land bid

Committee annuls tenders from a dozen organizations competing for building rights in developing community

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A general view of Harish's main street. (photo credit: Gili Yaari/Flash 90)
A general view of Harish's main street. (photo credit: Gili Yaari/Flash 90)

The Israel Lands Authority on Thursday disqualified tenders from 12 ultra-Orthodox organizations bidding for building rights in a large construction project, citing a claim that they worked together as a “cartel” against a competing nonreligious group.

The tenders committee of the ILA announced the decision, which concerned plots of land in the northern community of Harish where plans are being drafted for 10,000 new housing units.

The town was originally slated to undergo radical expansion to benefit the religious community, but a secular group appealed to be allowed the chance to build in the city as well. With the ILA’s decision, the city will likely no longer be a Haredi-only stronghold.

The ILA said the move to disqualify the groups stemmed from the fact that they were acting in concert.

“There is a suspicion that one source coordinated between the different proposals,” the group said in a statement, according to Ynet. “The tenders committee of the ILA called a hearing for the NGOs and their legal reps and decided to disqualify … them.”

The tenders for four plots, targeted for 319 housing units, will be run again at a later date, the committee said after the groups were excluded  It was not clear if the 12 groups can resubmit their bids.

Tenders for another 4,300 housing units were handed out, though. Among those who successfully won tenders is an organization that will build 300 homes for Arab families.

Tenders for a further 5,000 units will be held in the future.

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The housing fracas in Harish, a quickly developing small town, began over six months ago when Housing Minister Ariel Atias announced tenders to build an additional 10,000 units in the community, which is scheduled to undergo massive development.

Although the tenders were open to all sectors of the public, the ministry made clear they were targeted for the ultra-Orthodox, a common occurrence in Israel where many communities are segregated by ethnicity or religious observance.

The town, located along the Trans-Israel highway but still far from the country’s main population center, represents an attractive option for home buyers unable to afford Tel Aviv’s high prices.

The unusually cheap prices offered for plots prompted a nonreligious group to campaign for building rights, too, and the Green Harish organization submitted a tender along with the 12 ultra-Orthodox groups.

However, last November, amid rumors that the non-religious bid had failed, Green Harish appealed to the attorney-general claiming the ultra-Orthodox organizations were illegally coordinating their tenders.

The ILA had delayed announcing the tender winners until Thursday.

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