Corruption, criminality, and discrimination pervasive in religion-state arena

The State Comptroller's 2017 report: a searing indictment

Israel’s 39-chapter annual state Comptroller report, published on Tuesday, May 16, was nothing less than a blistering indictment of the unholy alliance of religion & state in Israel, providing multiple examples of criminality, corruption, and discrimination conducted by government officials in the arena of religion & state.

Yosef Shapira, Israel State ComptrollerYosef Shapira, Israel State Comptroller

These following prominent highlights from the Comptroller's 2017 report bear out Hiddush's research and advocacy positions over the years, underscoring the devastating costs of Israel's political reality:


1) The government-controlled kashrut certification process.

The state Comptroller's report opened with a searing critique of the government-controlled kashrut certification process, citing widespread mismanagement, corruption, and criminality. The report blames the local religious councils and the Chief Rabbinate for their failure to create serious reforms in the system.

One of the chief complaints raised by the report concerned kosher supervisors’ source of income, with the vast majority receiving their salary from the businesses they supervise, thus creating the potential for conflict of interests and “black money.” Supervisors often receive pay for hours they did not work, and many kashrut supervisors are unauthorized. One supervisor was reportedly paid for working 27 hours a day. Beyond this, there are many officials sitting on local religious councils (which oversee the kashrut supervisors) who themselves work as kashrut supervisors (a clear conflict of interest).

The report also underscored the failure of the authorities to provide natural opportunities for women to work as kashrut supervisors, even though it has been established for some time that they may serve in such a role. To this day, it is nearly impossible for women to integrate into this profession due to systemic discrimination.


2) Ultra-Orthodox IDF recruits receiving exemptions from military service for "mental reasons"

Approximately 300 of the 1,901 pages in the 67th annual report are devoted to the Ministry of Defense and the IDF. The Comptroller found that prospective ultra-Orthodox recruits received 2.5 to three times more exemptions from military service for mental reasons than the rest of the population.

From March to July 2014, 1,094 ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students arrived at the IDF induction centers, with more than half of them (607) receiving a recommendation for exemption from service due to mental reasons. From January to October 2015, 77 percent received the same recommendation.

The IDF Chief Medical Officer told the Comptroller's representative that "the difficulty stems from the fact that prospective recruits who do not want to enlist get the entire 'establishment' to help them: their families, their teachers, and their doctors. In such a situation, the mental health professionals cannot prove whether or not they are pretending." The comptroller wrote that even though the IDF has been aware of this "loophole" since 2012, it has yet to find a solution.


3) Taxpayer funds misdirected from Israel's periphery to Zionist Orthodox "Torah Core" groups and political activists

Minister Uri Ariel's close associates, including so-called "Torah core" groups that work to persuade secular teens in affluent and middle class communities to become Orthodox and support Israel's settlements, received more than half of the funds intended for underdeveloped communities in Israel's periphery.

Another glaring example of corruption exposed by the Comptroller's report was the misdirection of taxpayer funds intended for the development of Israel's outlying, less developed regions to the political and religious associates of Minister Uri Ariel of the Jewish Home party. Ariel's close associates, including so-called "Torah core" groups that work to persuade secular teens in affluent and middle class communities to become Orthodox and support Israel's settlements, and also including political activists for Ariel's right-wing Tekuma faction of the Zionist Orthodox Jewish Home party, received more than half of the funds intended for underdeveloped communities in Israel's periphery.

The state comptroller noted in his report that “the involvement of lobbyists, parties with vested interests and political associates of government ministers in these processes constitutes serious damage to good governance, proper administration and the public interest in general…Ariel bears responsibility for the failures that have been brought up.”


4) Racist discrimination against Sephardic girls who apply to ultra-Orthodox schools

This pervasive discrimination has been talked about for a long time, and the Ministry of Education has not risen to this challenge. In fact, in some ways it has perpetuated it by using protracted appeal procedures, which result in most victims abandoning the appeal process.

The state Comptroller states: "The audit found that the Ministry of Education does not organize the complaints of discrimination, does not initiate follow-up to the incidents of discrimination in the framework it is responsible for, and does not develop knowledge in this field. The data is... left for use only for limited school purposes."

The report further notes that "in light of the [Ministry of Education's] duty and responsibility to ensure an egalitarian educational system, and in view of the persistence of discrimination in various educational institutions, it must expand and promote the development of knowledge about discrimination in its areas of responsibility. Complaints and other documentation on the subject must be centralized - in order to locate the problem centers of discrimination, to lead to a systemic treatment for them and fulfill the [Ministry's] duty of supervision that applies to [the schools that discriminate against Sephardic girls]."


5) The illegal unavailability of civil burial in Israel

Even though Israel's 1996 civil burial law mandates that the Ministry of Religious Services must establish civil cemeteries in different regions of the country, not one Minister of Religious Services in the two decades since this became law has declared a site for a civil burial cemetery. Licenses have been given to several sites, but none have been properly declared, which violates the law and is administratively deficient. Governmental decisions over the years regarding civil burial have not included the essential elements, such as: quantitative goals, a budgetary framework, budgetary sources, etc., which has resulted in a real lack of availability of civil burial throughout most regions of Israel, in a way that undermines the basic right of Israel's citizens for burials according to their beliefs and outlook.

Further, the deliberations regarding the implementation of the 1996 law disregarded potential needs of Israel's 20% non-Jewish population, and the Ministry of Religious Services does not run a detailed database, nor does it have reliable data as to the scope of the public's potential need, nor current/future availability. Lacking the necessary factual infrastructure, it cannot appropriately address the public's need.

The failures that are described in this report, including the multi-year dragging in implementing the law, raise doubts as to whether the Ministry of Religious Services should continue to be the governmental agency responsible for civil burial in Israel. The Comptroller wrote that the concern arises that "what was - is what will be, and what was done - is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun."

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