Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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12 Shevat 5760 - January 19, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Widening Investigation of Independent Political Election Organizations For Barak

by Arye Zisman and M. Plaut

The investigation of nonprofit organizations active on behalf of prime minister Ehud Barak during the last elections eight months ago is widening. Sources in the Office of the Prime Minster said that the feeling is that the Government Secretary, attorney Yitzhak Herzog, will not be able to continue in his position following publication of the State Comptroller's report in a week-and-a-half.

Election campaign finance laws in Israel strictly limit the amount of money that an individual can give towards the election of a candidate or a party. There are also strict limitations on campaign funding that may be accepted from outside of Israel. The bulk of the campaign financing comes from the State, and private sources of funds are strictly controlled.

An approach that has been taken by both large political parties is that various independent organizations are formed, to work for various social and political goals which, incidentally as it were, also promote the party of interest. In order to do this legally, independence must be maintained between the outside organizations and the campaign effort. In the case of the previous elections, the allegations are that many of the purportedly independent organizations with interests that were close to Barak in fact had directors who were closely identified with the Barak political campaign, and in some cases direct campaign expenses were paid by the outside organizations. If true, this constitutes a serious violation of the law.

Two months ago Yoav Yitzchok, a reporter for the financial daily Globes, published a special investigation which revealed that five months before the elections Herzog, who was active in Barak's election campaign, ordered a professional survey to analyze the support for Barak among Russian immigrants. The survey cost NIS 29 thousand (about $7,000) according to the owner of the company that conducted the survey, Aharon Fein. Yitzchok is also the investigative reporter who broke the story about money paid to Israeli President Ezer Weizman.

It is suspected that this sum was paid to the company in two bank checks not issued by the campaign itself and that although, as the receipt he received indicates, it was Herzog who ordered the survey, his name does not appear on the checks. The State Comptroller recently approached Fein to examine the receipts. When Herzog learned of this, Fein claims: "He was shocked, like one whose world had fallen apart."

If those checks were actually used, the law was broken, because the Law for the Subsidizing of Parties limits personal contributions for candidates to NIS 1700 per donor within a period of a year. The amount that Herzog allegedly paid for conducting that survey was far in excess of the amount that is permitted by law.

The State Comptroller has asked Yitzhak Herzog and Tal Zilberstein, a businessman who was chairman of Barak's election headquarters, to reply to various charges regarding the nonprofit organizations. Herzog has hired a lawyer to prepare the answers on the issue.

Immediately after publication of news of the investigation, Michael Eitan demanded Herzog's dismissal from his rather sensitive job. The Office of the Prime Minster said last week that it would await the release of the State Comptroller's findings.

Barak's confidants are convinced that the State Comptroller will not find fault with the Prime Minister and will clear him of all suspicions with respect to the independent organizations. Barak's men maintain that everything was done with honesty and integrity, and all the activity was in line with the principle of freedom of expression and assembly.

A judicial team is currently preparing a legal opinion to try to prevent the Labor party from having to pay any fine that may be imposed. If a fine is indeed imposed, it is unclear who will be held liable for its payment, because the One Israel party is not a clear-cut entity. Though Barak would like to dissolve the Labor Party in favor of One Israel, in the meantime Labor is a legal entity while One Israel is not.

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