Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Tammuz 5761 - June 27, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Observations: Finance Ministry Gives Hundreds of Millions of Shekels to Bahai

by S. Yisraeli

Devoted Jews and heads of Torah institutions, who are constantly under attack for so-called "chareidi blackmail," will likely find the following story of interest.

Several weeks ago the Bahai religious organization celebrated the opening of its Bahai Gardens, part of the realization of the vision forged by the bizarre religion centered in Haifa and Acco. In an enthusiastically sympathetic report Ha'aretz wrote that the initiative was realized "without a cent of taxpayers' money," but meanwhile the financial newspaper Globes revealed that in fact, the Bahais have received extensive benefits from the Finance Ministry.

Among the 4,000 celebrants who took part in the main ceremony were Finance Ministry Director General Avi Ben Bassat and a lineup of top ministry officials, wrote Globes, adding, "If I had organized the ceremony, I would have made a special note of thanks to express the gratitude the Bahai community owes the Israeli Ministry of Finance. To be more precise, I would have presented the directors general of the past decade with a giant bouquet of flowers, saving the biggest bouquets for Shimon Peres and former deputy prime minister Moshe Shachal, for one simple reason: during Peres' time in office he granted the Bahai Gardens project an exemption from all indirect taxes (such as purchase tax and VAT). This value of this tax break is estimated at NIS 250 million ($60 million)--a gift by Peres to Bahai tourist operations in Haifa."

According to Globes, this story has been ripening slowly for the past 15 years and now the fruits it has borne will fill their baskets for a long time to come. The following is a brief summary of events:

During the mid-1980s Peres headed the unity government as per the rotation agreement signed with Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir. At the end of two years in office, Peres left his post to make room for Yitzhak Shamir and took up the post of Finance Minister. Meanwhile, in a totally separate series of events, of course, the Bahais were busy developing the tourism economic powerhouse they run in "red" Haifa. Haifa has long been a Labor town, which explains the Bahai's ability to lobby the Finance Ministry effectively while it was under Labor Party control.

Meanwhile the Bahais began to plan their tremendous garden project. At the recent opening ceremonies it was reported that total project cost a cool one billion shekels -- about $250 million. The project was mostly funded through contributions from around the world and implemented with volunteer labor. The Bahais asked the Finance Minister for an exemption from indirect taxes, promising that their project would transform the Carmel region into a tourist magnet.

In 1987 the Finance Ministry decided to grant the Bahais an exemption from these taxes for ten years, at which point the two sides would negotiate a five-year extension. "As the ten- year period was nearing its end, the Bahais hired Attorney Moshe Shachal. Shachal, it will be recalled, is considered particularly close to Peres, who was the steam engine behind the idea of granting the tax exemption for the project. With a legal counsel like Shachal, the Bahais managed to drag out the discussion over back taxes for three years. The Finance Ministry didn't know whether to laugh or cry in reaction to the delay tactics employed by the Bahais and their skillful advisors. Finance ministers came and went and the Bahai problem remained."

And what does the future hold in store? asks the financial newspaper. "This exemption is due to expire at the end of 2002, but the Finance Ministry is whetting its sword for head-to-head combat with the Bahais. Since last time they drew out negotiations for three years, this time we will wise up and begin the negotiations two years before the expiration date, at the beginning of 2001. The main negotiations will focus on the new project the Bahai community is planning to build in Acco. Although it is not a billion-shekel project, their scheme will be no less sophisticated. The Bahais have met the Finance Ministry's demand and have already submitted their basic plan for the new project slated for construction in Acco. It's safe to assume that this project will also be proclaimed a tourist gemstone, with construction being funded through donated labor and funds. But guess what happened: although the negotiations were scheduled to begin in February-March, the proceedings have yet to get underway, and here we are in the middle of 2001 with an exemption of NIS 250 million ($60 million) for the past 15 years, and with no agreements for the future . . . "

Yet another story about connections, looting the public coffers and a racket that has nothing to do with chareidim.

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