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Photo: Hillel Meir/TPS
Bayit Yehudi Leader Naftali bennett
Photo: Hillel Meir/TPS
Comptroller fines parties for active funding, lets passives ones slide
Among other conclusions, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira fined Bayit Yehudi, Likud and several other parties from the right for illicit contributions, false bookkeeping and using public funding trying to sway public opinion; the Zionist Union was not fined for the activities of non-party organizations such as V15, which looked to replace PM Benjamin Netanyahu during the last elections.

The State Comptroller issued a report on Tuesday, which included substantial criticism of several political parties. The report issued fines on several accounts, including political party members and leaders' participation in false bookkeeping, receiving illicit contributions and submitting fictitious travel expenses during the last elections and Knesset session.

 

 

Right-wing nationalist party Bayit Yehudi was fined the highest, with NIS 1 million for its conduct over the last three years in the Knesset, and an additional NIS 850,000 for its conduct during the last elections season. State Comptroller Yosef Shapira stressed that "Bayit Yehudi did not include the full extent of its expenses in its accounts, including only improper expenses."

 

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira (Photo: Gil Yohanan) (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
State Comptroller Yosef Shapira (Photo: Gil Yohanan)

 

Likud was also fined NIS 850,000 for its conduct during the last elections. Both parties' fines were due to the "National Union Rally" conducted two days prior to the elections. During the rally, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bayit Yehudi Leader Naftali Bennett both gave speeches, with Bennett also taking the stage to strum a guitar and sing "Jerusalem of Gold." The comptroller found that both parties "took an active part in the rally, to the point of having it at least somewhat represent them, thus accepting it as illicit contributions."

 

The state comptroller did not, however, find that the "Israel Wants a Change" rally did not count as illicit contributions to the Zionist Union and Meretz, since the politicians belonging to these factions did not speak at the rally. Rather, "they only passively participated, which does not constitute accepting the minor facilities at the rally as a contribution."

 

Bayit Yehudi Leader Naftali Bennett (Photo: Hillel Meir/TPS)
Bayit Yehudi Leader Naftali Bennett (Photo: Hillel Meir/TPS)

 

The Joint List—which includes the Arab parties Balad and Ra'am-Tal, in addition to the Arab-Jewish party Hadash—was also fined NIS 1.23 million. Most of the sum was due to concerns surrounding Balad's spending, which are currently are under police investigation. Shapira found that the party submitted a fictitious expense report on Election Day for 800 km, which he called "unlikely."

 

Additional parties that were fined by the state comptroller were Yisrael Beytenu (fined NIS 195,000) Eli Yishai-led Yachad party (fined NIS 18,000) and Ale Yarok, which promotes the legalization of marijuana (fined NIS 10,000).

 

The report also found that all the factions apart from Ale Yarok finished the elections with a deficit. Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid led the pack with a NIS 16 million deficit, ultra-Orthodox Mizrahi party Shas found itself NIS 11 million in the red, Likud was found to be NIS 10 million in debt, Yisrael Beytenu and Yachad are each indebted to the tune of NIS 8 million, Bayit Yehudi NIS 4 million, Meretz with NIS 3 million and the Zionist Union with NIS 2 million.

 

While he did not fine the factions that ended up in debt, he did caution them to "act with restraint when using government funding given to them and to use it in accordance to the law and its purpose."

 

Bayit Yehudi responded to the comptroller's report, saying, "We're going to thoroughly study the report and draw our conclusions."

 

Likud's legal council Avi Halevi, also responded to the report. "Likud accepts the comptroller's comments and will fully implement them." Halevi also emphasized that the Likud was found to have run its campaign in an appropriate fashion during the last elections.

 

Yesh Atid reacted to the report, saying, "We're very happy that the state comptroller described our conduct during the 2015 elections in a positive light. Yesh Atid has always held itself to the highest standards of governance and proper management."

 

The state comptroller also looked into non-party organizations that were involved in the last elections. The most noted one was V15, which had actively campaigned to replace Netanyahu as prime minister.

 

The V15 headquarters during the 2015 elections (Photo: Motti Kimchi)
The V15 headquarters during the 2015 elections (Photo: Motti Kimchi)

 

Though he did not mention V15 by name, Shapira found that such organizations did not act against the law. "None of the evidence brought before me showed a close relationship between non-party bodies and any of the factions, which would imply that this or that body acted as an extension of a certain faction," he wrote.

 

"Political activity or commercial messages calling to replace the government do not constitute propaganda, nor does calling others to vote for different groups, to the effect that constitutes receiving a donation from a non-party body, particularly an illicit donation," added Shapira in his report.

 

Finally, the report examined "whether political content published by certain newspapers constitutes illicit political faction donations.

 

Shapira stated that this is a complex matter that raises such questions as the newsworthiness of an item compared to content labeled as propaganda, the level of connection a certain publication has to a certain party and what would constitute marking an entire publication as an illicit contribution to a certain faction. Shapira admitted that he lacked the necessary tools to determine these dilemmas and recommended that the legislative body—the Knesset—discuss the matter at length.

 

Shapira specifically elaborated on the possibility of the government ordering the shut down of a news publication or party funding as unprecedented steps that that require the Knesset's attention. "This subject is so complex, both legally, publicly and practically speaking, that is should be reviewed by the legislator, with particular attention given to core values, in an effort to create the appropriate balance."

 


פרסום ראשון: 10.19.16, 14:52
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