Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Elul 5764 - August 25, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Look for the Fraud Where it is Being Committed

The State Comptroller published a scathing report of widespread abuses in the research budgets of Israel's major universities. The combined research budgets of these institutions is over NIS 600 million -- more than the total government support for yeshivas altogether. The total budget of the universities is about ten times greater at some NIS 6 billion.

The problems that the Comptroller found begin at bad management and certainly reach to the borders of crimes if not beyond. The Comptroller checked 50 research contracts at Hebrew University and at Tel Aviv University, and 85 at the Weizman Institute. This is out of close to 10,000 research contracts that were executed during the time period in which the Comptroller's study was carried out (2001-2003).

The Comptroller put his conclusions very delicately: "In the opinion of the Office of the State Comptroller, the procedures followed by the universities that were investigated is not proper, since their reports to those who supply the financing is not at the required level of transparency. They asked for financing for the entire amount spent on the research, but they did not inform them that some of these expenses are already paid for out of the regular [university] budget. The result is that the universities and the researchers received from the sources of financing monies to which they were not entitled according to the rules of the grant giver or according to signed contracts; grant givers who did not have developed rules in this matter were not given a choice of which expenses to fund."

If someone had written that the Comptroller found that the universities and the researchers had engaged in duplicity and fraud, he could not be challenged on the facts. Weizman Institute, the Comptroller found, ran two sets of books: one for the researcher and one for the grant giver. The Institute insisted that what it did was proper, but the Comptroller did not agree. He also said that the entire system used by Weizman was open to abuse, and that a new system that the Institute claimed it was installing, preserved many of the previous abuses.

The worst abuse, which was very common in the contracts checked and which the Comptroller said appears to be common at other institutions as well, is that projects got double financing for many significant expenses. The university covered some salaries, for example, out of its regular budget but also reported it as a research expense under a signed contract. The result was that when the contract ended there was still extra money in its account for all those expenses that were double-funded. That money went into private research accounts controlled by the researcher without any oversight.

The universities argued that this arrangement contributed to academic freedom and the advancement of knowledge. However the Comptroller replied, "The principles of academic freedom and scientific research must not serve as a justification for deviating from accepted accounting principles and proper disclosure." The amounts involved are millions of shekalim: at the two universities they added up to over NIS 50 million in 5761 and 5762 (over $12,000,000)! The amounts at Weizman were difficult to calculate because of the convoluted books that it keeps.

Needless to say, the money was not all spent on further research. The Comptroller found instances of the money having been spent on renovations, general expenses and salaries unrelated to any research. Since the sample checked was such a small amount of the total involved -- just about one percent -- it can be assumed that the worst abuses were not found.

What is the lesson that we learn from this?

These findings were virtually ignored in the general Israeli press. The most extensive reporting of the scandals was in Yated Ne'eman.

We think that it shows very clearly that all those who crusade against chareidi institutions are not motivated by love of justice and hatred of abuse. If that were the case, they would have screamed at the findings of the Comptroller, which are quite serious and are found at an institutional level that is all the more deplorable. Rather chareidi critics are motivated by love of headlines and hatred of chareidim, two goals that were obviously in short supply in the university scandals.

For the record, we say that we deplore chareidi fraud as strongly as any other fraud, and we applaud efforts to root out all fraud. But we reject any suggestion that the chareidi community deserves the special treatment that it has received in anti-fraud measures in recent years. These measures merely harass chareidim, and do nothing to uncover the real problems, especially those that have nothing to do with the chareidi community.

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