The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has cancelled for the second time a tender issued for the sale of two buildings it owns on Rechov Stern in Jerusalem's Kiryat Yovel neighborhood, apparently to prevent chareidim from moving into the buildings. Secular figures called the move a "victory." The chareidi group that submitted a bid for an enormous sum plans to file a claim against the university and request a court order to prevent the university from canceling the tender.
Two years ago the university issued the tender for the sale of 64 units that once served as dormitories, but have been standing vacant for an extended period. Three groups vied for the tender, including a bid led by Rav Sholom Eliezer Herbst, chairman of the nonprofit Housing Assistance and Solutions, who submitted the highest bid. Rav Herbst was planning to convert the abandoned dormitories into low cost housing for chareidi families.
"The university at first summoned me to sign a contract with it," Rav Herbst told Yated Ne'eman, "and then suddenly I received a fax message saying the tender had been canceled and the money would be returned. When I asked why the tender had been canceled they offered a pretext that they lacked the proper ownership documentation for the buildings. That excuse was quite surprising, too. How can they issue a tender for properties not under their ownership? That's fraud and theft.
"The tender is for two buildings worth about NIS 12.5 million [$3.3 million]. At the time the tender wasn't even worth that much, but the chareidi public preferred a combined purchase. These are small, old, prefabricated buildings that need millions of shekels worth of renovations. All this was after the tender had been advertised in the newspapers as required by law."
Two months ago the university reissued a tender for the buildings. The university also owns newer dorm buildings on Rechov Uruguay in Kiryat Yovel, which also stand empty, though the university is asking the state for budgeting assistance.
Seven groups vied for this tender, said Rav Herbst, and a secular group called Ruach Chadasha jumped into the fray to prevent "a chareidi takeover." The bids rose substantially. "Suddenly all of the groups received a letter from the university saying the minimum bid was NIS 35 million and checks for 10 percent of the amount would be required."
Following the sudden change Atty. Motti Krauser, who represents one of the groups bidding for the tender, asked for a court order to prevent the unexpected change in the tender.
"This move," says Rav Herbst, "was apparently made to enable government housing company Prazot, which has NIS 55 million [$14.5 million] in its coffers and has not purchased a single apartment in the past ten years, to submit a higher bid in a future tender once the chareidi groups had given up — and win the tender. This is because of a law forbidding a government company from bidding more than the assessed values, and in this case the buildings were assessed at NIS 22 million [$5.8 million], and later a second assessment valued them at NIS 28 million [$7.4 million]. When the university gave notice it would only accept bids of NIS 35 million [$9.3 million] it essentially turned the bidding into what's known as `market bids,' allowing the government company to submit a bid above the assessment. It's all a rigged game to keep chareidim from moving in.
"After consulting with gedolei Torah," said Rav Herbst, "I decided to vie for the tender and raise the bid to NIS 36 million [$9.5 million], and I was told by extremely reliable sources that this was the highest bid. The next highest bid was NIS 32,575,000 [$8.6 million]. Once again, this afternoon I received a fax message saying the tender had been canceled, offering no explanation."