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Saturday, 22 March 2008

IRAC Update 09/03/2008 - Anti Corruption

March 9th, 2008
Dear Friend of the Israel Religious Action Center,
Needless to say, we at IRAC are still all in shock from the tragic
events of last week. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims,
as we wish rafua shlema, a speedy recovery to those who were injured.
You have surely been following the rockets flying at us from the South,
the horrifying threats arriving from the North, and the deadly events at
the end of last week which struck us at the heart of Jerusalem. Yet,
what they don't show on television is that spring has arrived to Israel,
the fields are spotted with red anemones, green grass covers every hill
and a completely friendly sun shines over the Middle East. This pastoral
atmosphere only enhances the feelings of frustration. It could have been
so beautiful here. Jews from all over the world could have gathered in
this country, and blossomed side by side in a thousand shades and
colors. Our neighbors could have experienced this vibrant bounty as
well, and we all could have enjoyed the spring year round. I am sharing
with you my thoughts of all that we are missing. You know as well as
anyone that around here one must "walk and chew gum at the same time."
You must continue dreaming of another Israel, while persisting to do
your job every day. All that you achieve in this world amounts to the
force you apply, times the distance you're willing to go. We must find
this force in order to move the issues we care about just another inch
forward. My friend, I would like to say that I would rather be in the
wrong with the dreamers, than to think I am in the right with those of
us who claim to be 'realistic'. With that, we must know how to be both
at the same time, like we say in Hebrew, lahlom b'hakitz, to dream while
awake.

IRAC's Anti-Corruption Campaign
In the past few years, Israel has seen a rise in government corruption.
According to ombudsman reports, the rabbinical and religious
institutions are rife with corruption. In Israel, religious offices and
institutions function under the auspices of the government and receive
funds from taxpayers. Other Israeli government systems are subject to
special disciplinary courts, however the employees of the religious
councils cannot be held accountable by any disciplinary system, public
or governmental. No current legislation exists capable of addressing
this issue.


Corruption in the Chief Rabbinate
IRAC has begun an Anti-Corruption Campaign in order to initiate a
clean-up of the rabbinical and religious institutions in Israel. The
Campaign's most recent legal action is the case against the Chief
(Ashkenazi) Rabbi of Israel Jonah Metzger. Rabbi Metzger was found to
have received numerous illegal gifts, duplicate government services
(double dipping), and free extended stays for himself and his family at
luxury hotels where he is responsible for the Kashrut Certificate.
Despite the police having proven his dishonest conduct beyond a
reasonable doubt, the Attorney General of Israel was unable to impeach
the Chief Rabbi--there is no existing provision for the impeachment of,
nor can any disciplinary measures be implemented against a Chief Rabbi,
though such measures exist for Members of Knesset, the President and the
Prime Minister. IRAC recently drafted new legislation that would create
disciplinary measures through which to obtain legal recourse against
Chief Rabbi Metzger and other corrupt government rabbis.
A related focus in the IRAC Anti-Corruption Campaign is the state funded
Kashrut system. In most sectors of Israeli society, the attainment of
Kashrut Certificates is integral and crucial for a successful business.
However, there is no uniformity of regulations for granting
certification, leaving the door open for corruption. This has led to
corruption in: the granting or revoking of certificates, a lack of
formal training for Kashrut supervisors and the inherent favoritism of
Ultra-Orthodox establishments. One of the most significant issues are
the abundant cases of conflict of interest in the Kashrut System. The
official employees of the System are in many instances also involved in
or owners of their own private Kashrut businesses. Officials implicated
include Chief Rabbis and members of the Chief Rabinate of Israel.


The Campaign
IRAC's Anti-Corruption Campaign is dynamic and multi-faceted. The
campaign has four elements: internet and other public media, eHotline,
legal action, and legislation. IRAC recently launched a new website to
serve the Israeli public. This website is a significant part of the
larger anti-corruption media campaign which includes advertisements
calling on Israelis to report corruption that they have encountered in
religious services like marriage, burial, and Kashrut certification for
restaurants and caterers. The website hosts the eHotline for the
Anti-Corruption Campaign and will include a list of rights that Israeli
citizens have in regards to religious services and freedom of religion.
The Hotline provides invaluable evidence that can lead to legal action.
IRAC will be able file petitions with the intention of forcing the
government to implement disciplinary measures over employees of
religious councils who remain the only government employees for whom
there is no oversight, accountability, or prescribed disciplinary measures.


News from the Anti-Corruption Hotline
There was recently a terrible incidence of corruption reported to the
IRAC Anti-Corruption Hotline. A section of Mount Zion, an area of
Jerusalem that is home to many holy sites of all faiths, has recently
been taken over by a local boys' religious school, Yeshivat Hatfutzot.
The male students of this Yeshiva have taken over public property and
imposed their rule over the local residents and visiting tourists. A
Christian tourist hoping to visit a church in the area was denied
access, and several residents, including a widow and a local artist,
have been harassed and violently attacked for not adhering to the
Ultra-Orthodox rules of the Yeshiva students. Unfortunately no action
has been taken by police to control their behavior because of their
religious affiliation. The Legal Department is reviewing the evidence to
defend the widow and the artist (whose arm was broken) and force the
state to take action against the Yeshiva.


Building a Just State
The first goal of the IRAC Anti-Corruption Campaign is to create a
public awareness. The campaign is promoting a culture of openness,
inviting and encouraging the Israeli public to report cases of
corruption in the religious system regarding, for example, burial
services, weddings, and the Kashrut system, all aspects of Israeli life
that fall under publicly-funded religious institutions. IRAC will use
these cases as the impetus for the introduction of new legislation and
rulings by the court. There must be new legislation created that will
make it possible to address corruption in religious services directly
and will lead to disciplinary actions by the courts. Ultimately, the
Anti-Corruption Campaign will create a public atmosphere that no longer
tolerates corruption.

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