Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Eli Simchayof has recently authorized an official NIS 550,000 (approx. $170,000) city event endorsing Shas, despite a memorandum sent by the municipality's legal advisor forbidding the use of city funds for any event which may be perceived as part of an election campaign, especially with the municipal elections just three short months away.
The event in question targeted the city's ultra-Orthodox community, but was categorized as an "eastern culture event" and was funded by the city's general arts budget. Normally, such an event would be categorized as a "community event," and would be funded by a different municipal body.
City Hall has been funding the event for three years. The event's brochure features the photo of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef – Shas' spiritual leader – a total of 14 times. Simchayof – who is a city councilman for Shas – is featured in the brochure 12 times.
Another prominent feature is an introductory blessing by Rabbi Yosef, praising the party.
The event has infuriated other factions in the municipality, which view it as outright propaganda, funded by taxpayers' money. A memo drafted on the matter by attorney Eli Havilio, the city's legal advisor, clearly states that "Simchayof's distribution of the brochures continues despite my previous memo, forbidding the utilizing of city funds for campaign purposes."
Havilio goes on to explain that the restriction is valid at all times, but must be doubly enforced in the six months prior to the election.
City councilman Sa'ar Netanel criticized the event, saying "it is inconceivable that the public has to fund a political event endorsing Shas. This is outright corruption."
Ynet approached Simchayof's office, asking if the event will take place despite the overwhelming objection to it, and was told that the event "will take place as scheduled, God willing."
The Jerusalem Municipality's official statement, sent on behalf of Deputy Mayor Simchayof read as follows: "The Jerusalem Municipality, through it arts department's eastern culture events (section) will be holding its third annual penmen ceremony, in which the city – subject to the decision of an independent committee – awards several prize rewards.
"The event is a-political; it features no political speeches or appearances, making the concern of using it as an election campaign irrelevant. We hope this event will continue to take place, God wiiling, in the years to come, regardless of any municipal elections."