Late leaders' memorial funds may be cut over 'discrimination'
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Late leaders' memorial funds may be cut over 'discrimination'

Yossi Melman

Haaretz 09/01/2007

An exchange of accusations between the Prime Minister's Office and the Justice Ministry might lead to the closure of the bodies that commemorate some of Israel's prime ministers and presidents. It also reveals differential access to funding: some associations commemorating deceased leaders get more money than others.

The "better-heeled" groups are those that by law are charged with commemorating David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, and assassinated tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi. The government generously funds these groups, which are considered prestigious and enjoy public exposure and support.

On the other hand, the government is skimpy when it comes to funding organizations like the ones commemorating prime minister and foreign minister Moshe Sharett, prime ministers Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir, and presidents Chaim Weizmann, Zalman Shazar and Haim Herzog.

They must often knock on the doors of private donors to conduct the same activities as their better-off counterparts - memorial days, seminars, workshops, publications and an Internet site.

Yaakov Sharett, who heads an association to commemorate his father, Moshe Sharett, cites "discrimination" with regard to the bodies charged with inculcating the heritage of deceased leaders.

The organizations that do not have the connections or ability to apply public pressure to get laws passed to ensure access to more generous financing now face a new problem: The Prime Minister's Office has been ordered by the Justice Ministry to stop the funding it now provides - NIS 300,000 per year - to the associations.

Amnon de Hartoch, head of the division for the allocation of support in the Justice Ministry told the PMO about two weeks ago that the law prohibits it from funding the associations without the approval of the Public Commemoration Council. However, the council, which operates out of the PMO, has not managed to fill its seats as the law requires.

In 2000, funding for organizations commemorating departed leaders dropped from NIS 300,000 to NIS 120,000. About six months ago, when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert took office, he ordered the funding restored.

But a few days before the organizations were to receive their 2006 allocations, de Hartoch delayed the disbursement until the Commemoration Council operates with its full complement of members.

Sources in the PMO said de Hartoch did not inform them ahead of time about his decision to delay funding. De Hartoch denies the charge that he is withholding the funds on a whim.

"I have to operate according to the law. These are state funds. The law states that they may not be disbursed without the approval of the Commemoration Council. And the council has not authorized their disbursement. It's not my fault that the council has not yet been constituted." De Hartoch added that he has been flexible wherever possible.

By law, the council must have 21 members and at present has only eight. Council chair Avi Widerman says the problem in finding members is the council's perceived lack of prestige.

The PMO says the council should be constituted within four months. "It's not certain [the organization] will last that long," Yaakov Sharett said, adding that he will try to raise money from private donors. "This month I have no money for salaries," Zvi Yakutieli, head of the Shazar foundation, says.

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