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Haaretz: Shavei Given Millions With No Tender

Updated: Aug 26, 2021

(August 26) An article in the prominent Israeli newspaper Haaretz, written by veteran reporter Judy Maltz, has revealed that the Jerusalem-based Shavei Israel has been granted nearly ten million shekels (about $3.1 million) by Israel’s Ministry of the Treasury for the job of bringing 548 B’nei Menashe immigrants to Israel. The sum was approved by an Exemptions Committee that accepted a request by the Ministry of Immigration to waive the usual requirement for a public tender that would have mandated bidding for the job. However, a second request made to keep the agreement a secret was denied by the same committee, which published an announcement of it.

“The [first] request, wrote Maltz, “was approved even though the Ministry had been made aware of harsh allegations against Shavei by members of the B’nei Menashe community. Petitions and letters sent to Aliyah Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata and her aides in recent months by members of the community and by organizations representing them – copies of which were obtained by Haaretz – allege that Shavei has engaged in tactics of intimidation, discrimination and blacklisting to silence its detractors. According to testimonies shared with the Aliyah Ministry and the Jewish Agency, community members who dared criticize the organization would find their names deleted from lists of candidates for Aliyah. In the case of those already living in Israel, they would receive threats that their relatives would not be allowed to join them.”

Shavei Israel, Maltz’s article points out, has been “effectively awarded a monopoly by the government to oversee the Aliyah of the B’nei Menashe,” thus making it “the only case of a private organization being vested with responsibility for a particular community of prospective immigrants [to Israel].” Its monopolistic status also garnered it two previous Aliyah contracts similarly conducted without tenders: one for $7 million in 2013 for the bringing of 899 Bnei Menashe, and another for $6.6 million in 2016 for the bringing of 712.

Asked why the present agreement was for a larger sum but fewer immigrants, an Aliyah Ministry spokesman told Maltz, “Our professional investigations determined that the costs of putting these immigrants up in Israel have risen over the years.” And yet no breakdown of the $10 million appears in the Exemptions Committee’s announcement and it is unclear how or on what the money will be spent.

In explanation of its request to waive the tender requirement, the Ministry, Maltz writes, informed the Treasury that Shavei is the only organization that “works with the Bnei Menashe in the country of their origin” and that it alone is “acquainted with the special characteristics of this community.” Confronted by Maltz with the existence of Degel Menashe and its widespread activities in Manipur and Mizoram, the Ministry spokesman backtracked by explaining that Shavei alone “provides lessons in Judaism and conversion preparation.”

Degel Menashe chairman Hillel Halkin, Maltz reports, accused the Aliyah Ministry with knowingly having provided the Exemptions Committee with inaccurate information. For years, Halkin says, Shavei Israel has exploited the monopoly granted it to the detriment of the B’nei Menashe community, and “the Ministry of Aliyah knows this.” The Ministry’s request to keep the agreement with Shavei a secret, he told Maltz, would appear to stem from its desire to avoid a public inquiry into Shavei’s prolonged misconduct and the Ministry’s complicity in it.

To our Newsletter, Halkin added: “Since no tender was issued, it’s impossible to say whether or not Degel Menashe could have competed in it. Obviously, Shavei Israel has experience with the Bnei Menashe’s Aliyah that Degel Menashe does not. This does not mean, though, that Degel Menashe could not have bid on parts of a tender had there been one.”

In response to the question why he thought the Ministry was so eager to go on working with Shavei despite its awareness of the numerous complaints of malfeasance against it, Halkin said: “I’m not sure what the answer to that is. The Ministry and Shavei have been working together for years and have developed a cozy relationship that the Ministry is loathe to disrupt, but I can’t tell you why its determination to continue it is so great that it wishes to hide Shavei’s abuses from the public. There is much that we still don’t know. I hope that Judy Maltz and Haaretz will continue to investigate.”

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