Monthly Report Headlines | January 2016

Gigantic Appeal to the High Court of Justice – The Gas Arrangement Must be Cancelled: This appeal is being lodged because of the improper, hasty, tendentious, and unauthorized steps taken by the Prime Minister to neutralize the Antitrust Regulator and his Court and dispossess them of their authority. We are also appealing because the process by which the Gas Arrangement was made was fundamentally flawed and based on a clear intention to favor the monopoly of Yitzchak Tshuva and Noble Energy and shield them from the demands of the antitrust laws. In our suit we wrote, “The strength of this monopoly is not a consequence of fate, of historical inheritance, or of an uncontrollable constraint. Rather, it is a direct result of the unlawful conduct of the natural gas companies in recent years, and the unexplainable caving-in of the State authorities with respect to enforcing the law on these companies.” There are judges in Jerusalem! We are certain that the judges of The High Court of Justice will understand that this scandalous arrangement which rests on flimsy foundations—cannot be allowed to become law because of the severe damage it will cause to the economy and to the principles of democracy. Its destiny is clear: it must be cancelled. Our appeal has already achieved its first success, when the judges made clear that they will not settle for evidence presented by bureaucrats—rather, the most senior officials (e.g., the Prime Minister) will have to present explanations.

Appeal to the High Court of Justice: No to the Appointment of Arye Deri as Ministerior of the Interior: As a result of Arye Deri’s appointment to the position of Minister of the Interior, the Movement appealed to the High Court of Justice. The last time that Deri served as Minister of the Interior things ended up with his pocketing tremendous sums of the public’s money, his conviction for bribery, and his imprisonment for a felony. Thus, his current appointment has no defense. In the opinion of the Movement, Deri in particular, and all convicted criminals in general, should not be allowed to serve as government ministers—and certainly not be able to return to the very arena in which they carried out their grave crimes of bribery and corruption. Our legal battle is accompanied by a broad public battle, in the framework of which 70,000 Israelis have already signed the Movement’s petition against Deri’s appointment.

Did the State Give a Gift of Millions of Shekels to the Pension Fund of the Employees of the Jewish Agency? As a result of the Movement’s appeal to the High Court of Justice, some extremely odd behavior by the State was exposed with respect to the land on which the Ethiopian Immigrant Absorption Center is located in Mevasseret Tzion. The Jewish Agency received 51 dunams of land (estimated to be worth some 250 million shekels). Subsequently, by some mysterious process, the Agency managed to transfer ownership of the land to its employees’ Pension and Retirement Fund — a completely private enterprise. According to the State’s response to our appeal, in the contract transferring ownership of the land, the term “housing” was used, rather than the term “housing for immigrants”. And because of this “mistake” in deleting the two words, the public character of the land was transformed into a commercial one, and the value of the land skyrocketed. Moreover, several of the contracts disappeared only to reappear with handwritten corrections which involved changes that had not received the necessary approvals. Thanks to our appeal the flawed procedure was not only exposed, but the whole process will now have to be returned to the government agencies that should have been the ones to approve it in the first place.

The Bill Limiting the Activities of Lobbyists (in Which the Movement was Involved) has been Passed Into Law: The legislation proposed by MK David Bitan, which was based on a previous bill in whose drafting we were involved along with MK Mickey Rosenthal, received final approval in the Kenesset. This bill represents substantial good news in the struggle against the influence of lobbyists in the Kenesset and its committees, and the incomprehensible accessibility of government to wealthy interests at the expense of the public good. Among other requirements, the bill obligates every lobbyist to reveal the identity of the client he represents, and to declare the nature of the direct outcome for which he is lobbying. In addition the bill establishes a cooling-off period for parliamentary advisors before they can become lobbyists, and allows for the barring of lobbyists from entry to the Research and Information Center of the Kenesset and to its professional bureaus.

After Our Success in Preventing the Landgrab, We Registered Our Opposition in Order to Block the Dolphinarium Syndicate: This grave affair conjures up the smell of improper ties between wealthy interests and government. Real-estate tycoons are about to receive—from public funds—a huge benefit in real-estate rights, estimated to be worth 1.3 billion shekels, in exchange for evacuating the Dolphinarium Complex. The Complex is dilapidated and is thought to have a value 30 times less than the benefit the tycoons are slated to receive in the deal being drafted with the Tel Aviv Municipality. The Movement has been very active before the Tel Aviv Planning and Building Committee, the Israel Lands Authority, and other official bodies regarding this issue. After our success several months ago in blocking the attempt to get the deal passed by the Regional Committee, deliberation has recently returned to the Local Committee. Along with Adam Teva V’Din, we filed a detailed and clear-cut opposition to the proposed deal before the Local Committee: Such an improper “gift” must not be made to private entrepreneurs.

An Important Achievement – The Clal Insurance Company, Which Administers a Tremendously Large Segment of Israelis’ Pensions – Will Not Be Sold to the Chinese: Following the Movement’s appeal to the Insurance Commissioner demanding that she not ratify the deal under which a Chinese company would gain control of the Clal Insurance Company, and following widespread pressure from the public on this matter, and after the Commissioner announced that she was inclined not to ratify the deal—it was announced in January, 2016 that the deal has been cancelled! This deal would have been dangerous on many accounts: It would have transferred from one company to another control over the pensions instead of returning the control to the public; it would have reinforced the dangerous concentration in the pension market; ownership by a foreign concern would have made it difficult for Israeli Authorities to regulate and make certain that the interests of Israeli pensioners were protected; the transfer in particular to a Chinese company—which operates in a market whose debt has increased three-fold in recent years and where transparency is among the lowest in the word—would have been hazardous. In addition, the Insurance Commissioner directed that shares of Clal Insurance be issued so they could be owned by the general public rather than be concentrated in the hands of a few as they are now— all exactly as the Movement demanded.

We Say “No” to a Plea-Bargain With Olmert: The State Prosecution signed a plea-bargain agreement with Olmert regarding the charges that he was guilty of obstruction of justice. According to media reports, Olmert and his associates tried to influence the court testimony of Shula Zaken. As part of the plea-bargain arrangement, Olmert’s additional prison time would run concurrently (rather than consecutively) with the 18 months to which he has already been sentenced. The Movement approached the State Prosecution demanding that it not allow this plea-bargain arrangement. Subsequently, the judges of the Supreme Court also criticized the deal. In the opinion of the Movement, the full measure of the law should be brought to bear on Olmert, who was convicted in some of the gravest cases of corruption in the history of the State.

An Important Achievement in Breaking-up the Monopoly in the Honey Market: The agriculture cartels and monopolies are being broken-up one after the other, and this month an important goal was reached regarding the honey market. In the setting of a honey market which is extremely centralized, the two largest vendors control approximately 80% of the market. They sell us honey at prices which can reach almost four times those of prices abroad. It now appears that a change is taking place. Among the principle restraints to a competitive honey market, there have been import limitations and local production quotas. The curious nature of these varied restraints somehow created a situation where the huge manufacturers received the lion’s-share of the quotas, while the small and medium-sized dealers were left only with crumbs. As a result of a long and tenacious struggle by the Movement regarding this matter, the new quotas for 2016 will be based on considerations of competition and market-concentration, as is required according to the antitrust law (which until now has simply been ignored). Moreover, the strange and varied import restrictions (e.g., the inexplicable restriction on large containers of honey) — which up to now have played into the hands of the big manufacturers and prevented any substantial amount of imports— are beginning to be lifted. From now on, anyone will be able to import honey in large containers, even those who are not dealers authorized by the Honey Marketing Board (an archaic body suspected of having conflicts of interest and being too close to the big manufacturers). This is a step that is expected to increase competition.

The Movement’s Recent Activities on the Municipal Level: A significant amount of the Movement’s activity takes place at the municipal level. Even though these battles rarely make headlines, it is, in fact, at this level that a great deal of corruption takes place and a large amount of public funds are disbursed. Here are a few recent examples that represent just a fraction of our extensive activity. Ashdod – The head of the Ashdod Municipal Workers Committee, Iris Naftali, was convicted on four counts of breach of trust and a crime involving moral turpitude. The conviction was a result of her engaging a printing firm owned by her uncle on several occasions to do advertising jobs. She claimed she “forgot” to mention the relationship. The uncle, according to the indictment, falsified bids, and thereby won the tender. Despite all this, Naftali continues to work for the Ashdod Municipality, and even manages public funds. In light of this turn of events, the Movement made an urgent petition to the Ashdod Municipality, demanding that the mayor schedule a hearing prior to a dismissal – as is required by law. There is no room for convicted felons as public servants. Zichron Ya’akov – Two employees of the City Council exposed occurrences of suspected corruption and were granted protection orders from the State Comptroller. The occurrences the two exposed have been undergoing a police investigation, which according to media reports has been “dragged out” for 2 years and is going nowhere. The Movement appealed to the Police Investigation Department, the Police Department Legal Counsel, and the Police Commissioner demanding that they make certain that this affair is receiving the attention it deserves.