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Knesset passes dangerous settlement funding law — without a hitch

A new law formalizes the outsourcing of rural settlement activity in the West Bank. A boon to the settlements, a blow to democracy — and the taxpayer.

New housing units at the Israeli settlement of Shilo, Qaryut village, West Bank, June 6, 2015. (Activestills.org)

New housing units at the Israeli settlement of Shilo, Qaryut village, West Bank, June 6, 2015. (Activestills.org)

While Israeli society has been busy with incitement against human rights workers, a baby-killing celebration, and legislation attacking civil society, the Knesset quietly approved a new law last week formalizing the status of the notorious Settlement Division of World Zionist Organization (WZO).

The law authorizes the Israeli government to delegate its policies in the settlements to this outside, private body. Despite an opposition filibuster, the law for legalized policy outsourcing passed in the middle of the night between Wednesday and Thursday.

In February 2015, a damning report by Israel’s deputy attorney general on the shadowy body ordered the state to stop financing the Settlement Division through the national budget, arguing that it was not being held to any normal government standards of operation. Now that the law has passed, the government can fund the Settlement Division freely.

The new law stipulates the Settlement Division will be bound by practices of public bodies such as financial reporting and tender processes, and that it is subject to Israel’s freedom of information laws — but it cannot become a government body.

If that sounds boring and technical, it is meant to be. The Settlement Division has become Israel’s strongest symbol of the impenetrable bureaucracy that entrenches and expands settlements while making its work practically invisible.

It was established in 1971 within the WZO – itself a sprawling, antiquated “nominally private” but in fact quasi-governmental body that houses other major Zionist organizations. The Settlement Division is the vehicle for Israeli government funding and development of “rural settlement” in the West Bank, Golan Heights, and until 2005, Gaza. It is effectively the executive arm for all infrastructure and resource distribution for Jewish-only communities beyond the urban settlement blocs. Its website cheerfully describes its goals as “establishing and strengthening Jewish settlement,” and encouraging their “demographic, economic and social sustainability.”

Israeli right-wing activists are seen at an outpost built in the E1 area of the West Bank, just outside the settlement of Ma'ale Adumim. The outpost was erected in response to the murder of the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers on July 1, 2014. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli right-wing activists are seen at an outpost built in the E1 area of the West Bank, just outside the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. The outpost was erected in response to the murder of the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers on July 1, 2014. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

In 2004, the organization added the Negev and Galilee to its portfolio, perhaps mainly to claim it works for “the periphery” — or underdeveloped areas of Israel proper. But its overwhelming influence is in the settlements. Haaretz‘s Meirav Arlosoroff explains:

The state has virtually privatized management of settling the West Bank (and the Negev and Galilee)…The division is fully responsible for… planning, land allocation, infrastructure, construction of public buildings, security and the allotment of resources to encourage industry or agriculture. In short, all settlement policy in rural Israel is in the hands of the Settlement Division, an agency that’s not a government entity.

Bradley Burston of Haaretz has called the Settlement Division “monumentally shady.” It was not widely known and there was zero oversight over massive public funding it received, which paid for the division itself and salaries of its staff. Arlosoroff reported that the government regularly funneled between NIS 50 and 500 million per year to settlements through this group. Money just poured in through a line item in the state budget without any specification on how to allocate it.

According to the liberal Israeli think tank Molad, the group went beyond settlement activity, using public funds to support Jewish proselytizing groups in Israel, and local branches of Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party, including on election day.

But it was recent events that threw the Settlement Division into the national spotlight. In late 2014, Labor MK Stav Shaffir attacked the government for planning to pour NIS 140 million into the division in 2015 – more than doubling its 2014 budget. She was widely lauded for calling out the government’s ruse of hiding its settlement promotion from taxpayers. Weeks later, Arlosoroff reports, the police investigated the division for suspicion of an elaborate bribe-kickback association with Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party.

Labor MK Stav Shaffir (Photo by Activestills.org)

Labor MK Stav Shaffir (Photo by Activestills.org)

Then in February 2015, Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber issued the legal opinion elaborating on the deep secrecy and mismanagement within the division, calling it a “twilight zone” and suspending most of its funding. The report found that the government has essentially absconded from its duty to make and execute policy, an unprecedented situation nurturing what the authors called “structural pathologies” of governance.

The Right wasted no time launching a personal attack on Zilber. The bill that followed was a direct response, and a typical right-wing rejection of the justice system — which may change with Jewish Home’s Ayelet Shaked as justice minister.

Because the law legitimizes the status of this venal body and increases its transparency, it is being spun by sycophants as a valuable regulatory measure. There is even a possible left-wing angle: perhaps it is better to have the government’s true intentions declared in the open, rather than buried in hidden bureaucracies.

Neither interpretation is right. The ultra-nationalist MK who authored the bill, Bezalel Smotrich of the Jewish Home party, views it purely as a triumph of Zionism. Most likely, agriculture minister and settler Uri Ariel, also of the Jewish Home party, is behind the whole initiative, and there is no mistaking his agenda.

Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich seen in Jerusalem's Old City, October 7, 2015. (photo: Faiz Abu-Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich seen in Jerusalem’s Old City, October 7, 2015. (photo: Faiz Abu-Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

The appearance of being more honest about the government’s intentions is a deception. Instead, the law lets the government pay its contractor for expanding the occupation while legally turning blind eye to how it does so. The Settlement Division can still do anything it wants, and receive funds — albeit for specific activities rather than open-ended lines in the state budget — as long as it doesn’t abuse those funds.

Increased transparency of the Settlement Division itself is the nastiest hypocrisy. The law specifies that finances, tenders, contracts are subject to Israel’s freedom of information law. The clause silently leaves out the division’s most important role of all: distribution of land. Why is this one aspect exempt from freedom of information laws? Smotrich was quoted (by an opposition figure, written into the Knesset protocol) as openly telling the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee that land distribution must remain secret – because he doesn’t want these decisions available to Peace Now, which tracks settlement building in the West Bank.

The law was intended to expand the breadth and quality of life for Jews in the occupied territories while keeping the stateless Palestinians of that land permanently imprisoned under martial law.

It was intended to legalize policymaking and implementation that bypasses all normal checks and balances that regular ministries would be subject to in a democracy. It replicates Netanyahu’s own style of governance: he holds five or six ministries depending on the day, and still uses clauses in the law to bypass government regulations — to appear democratic while acting authoritarian.

The public’s acceptance and downright silence on both aspects are perhaps the most troubling.

And the most ironic aspect is this: Israelis are up in arms about foreign governments funding left-wing groups. But they clearly don’t mind funding the extreme right, and permanent occupation, including its more violent elements, with their very own taxes.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Carmen

      Well, it would help if the so-called “left” actually did something, something that would be a wakeup call, something along the lines of ImTirtzu, and produce a video complete with the faces of the so-called “traitors”, people who answer to a foreign government “in our midst!!” for the public to really get pissed about. It won’t happen, because the so-called “left”, has left.

      Reply to Comment
      • Carmen

        You’ve provided no evidence for your very serious claims and unless you provide solid evidence to back up what your saying, it’s nothing but malicious lies and will only be taken seriously by the mentally ill.

        Reply to Comment
        • Merkava

          Yeah, “Carmen”, LoL…,

          The EU funds HAMAS. HAMAS is a genocidal terrorist organization.

          Does Carmen deny that?

          Pls. answer ONLY the question, Carmen. Lets expose your for the fraud you really are.

          Reply to Comment
          • Merkava

            Oh boy …. it seems Carmen BEN Heinrich Böll is on the run – again, after being caught in the fraud he is trying to commit?

            Be confident, BEN, and answer the question (without trying to imitate the expressions some commenters here or hiding behind one of your numerous aliases). Come out of hiding and be a man, BEN, or perhaps you want to start responding as “Israel”? Lets hear your very highly intellectual arguments.

            We are still waiting…….

            Reply to Comment
          • Israel

            #ButthurtZionistOxygenThieves
            #LOL@ButthurtPsychoticZionistMouthBreathers
            #ButthurtRacistZionistRetardHasbaraFail

            HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

            Oh boy …. it seems “Merkava” alias Ginger LIES alias Donkey of Judah is on the rag, again, copying and pasting idiotic mumbo jumbo, spewing antisemitic Zionist filth, obsessing about her precious “Israel”, and desperate for attention from her beloved “Ben”.

            Look in the mirror, Ginger LIES, you sick little Zionist psychopath. No healthy person wants to be around malignant cancer like YOU.

            Go play in traffic, you deranged, sadistic, Zionist psychopath.

            I am still waiting…….

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            There, there, Benny-leh…

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Each time you do this you give the impression that you can’t handle me without resorting to troll tactics.

            Since I’m confident I handle all of you very well, I have no need of troll tactics.

            It’s that simple.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            You Ben adopting the name “Israel” and ranting like a demented parrot is not troll tactics? Okey dokey, if you say so…

            Reply to Comment
          • Israel

            Yeah, “Merkava”, LoL…,

            The EU and America fund and protect “ISRAEL”. “ISRAEL” is a genocidal terrorist organization.

            Does Ginger LIES deny that?

            Pls. answer ONLY the question, Ginger LIES. Expose yourself for the vile, putrid, ZIONIST anti-Semite you really are.

            Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “If [the French far right extremist] Le Pen were to convert, come to Israel and set up her party here, it would assume its place not on the far right but in what is known here as the center, fitting in perfectly between the Zionist Camp and Yesh Atid. Such is the political map of Zionism in Israel – Yesh Atid, Likud, Habayit Hayehudi and Yisrael Beiteinu are the extreme right while Kulanu and the Zionist Camp are on the right, with Meretz comprising a centrist party.”
        read more: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.693710

        Reply to Comment
        • Merkava

          And there is the resident jihadi jerk, BEN, with his usual copy-and-paste-job to compensate for his empty mind, while not knowing the difference between the ‘opinion of a pundit’ and rational analysis. jihadi-BEN claims that he is from “Britain” and the “United States” (hilarious!), but he dwells in Jewish websites EVERY SINGLE day – from morning to evening – ranting and raging against Jews and Israel with multiple aliases including Jewish names (such as “Heinrich Boll Foundation”, Carmen, Weiss, BeenThere, etc.), while not having a job and not looking for a job. You are pathetic, jihadi-BEN.

          Reply to Comment
          • Israel

            And here is one of +972mag.com’s resident “jewhadi” jerks, Ginger LIES, with her usual psychotic mumbo jumbo to compensate for her empty mind and fragile ego. Jewhadi-GINGER, a psychotic Zionist anti-Semite who wouldn’t know ‘rational analysis’ from a hole in the head, claims that she is from the “United States” (i.e. a psychotic American ziotard!), but she dwells in the comments sections of “Jewish” websites, EVERY SINGLE day – from morning to evening – ranting, raging and obsessing about Arabs, Jews, “Israel”, Palestine and Palestinians, using ridiculous aliases (such as “Merkava”, Donkey of Judah, Daniel, Hannibal the Cannibal, etc.), while living on food stamps. You are a vile, psychotic, ZIONIST leach, jewhadi-GINGER.

            Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          To an extreme leftist hater like Benny, everything looks extreme right wing.

          And to prove that all right wingers are eeeeeeviiiil, he picks on the most extreme actions of some right wing nutters and pretends that all right wingers are the same.

          A cheap tactic. If I wanted to do the same, I would point at Stalin’s atrocities, the Khmer Rouge and Beider Meinhof and assert that ALL leftists are like that.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “The horror expressed by the Israeli mainstream at the “blood wedding” video is more repulsive than the clip itself. The shock is at the messianic, disruptive representation of the settlement enterprise, the handiwork of successive generations of the Israeli mainstream.
            The police are shocked…. The Judea and Samaria district police are shocked…. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is shocked, and the Defense Ministry is shocked….”
            read more: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.694136

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            As I said, according to Benny, anyone who does not bash Israel and points out Arab extremist acts, to Benny, such a person is an extremist right winger.

            This guy is fixated on the hatred of Israel. Treat what he says with scepticism his bias is extreme.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            My “bias” is no more than that of Haaretz or +972. So why not focus on them instead of scapegoating me? This is a far right vilification tactic, to scapegoat as you are doing. And it has a hysterical quality. “If only people like that fiend _______ wasn’t here, we would be alright. It’s all their fault. And that fiend is everywhere! See!, there!, a Benny-ish comment! It’s him! There he is again!” This hysteria, and this kind of “spectral evidence” gathering, was used in Salem, Massachusetts in the late 1600s to convict and burn witches at the stake. And we know what use this kind of “evidence” was put to in the 1930s in Germany. As I said here yesterday, the comments like yours that fill up this page only testify to the very point Scheindlin makes. And Kobi Niv makes. And Lisa Goldman makes. (And by the way, your henchman Merkava does the dirty work here while you take a slightly more “respectable” approach. This too was done in the 1930s in Germany.) On a much larger level of course, your current society is doing this: “If only that Haaretz/ +972/ Breaking the Silence/ B’Tselem/ foreign NGO/ infiltrator wasn’t there, everything would be alright. It’s all their fault.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            BEN:”My “bias” is no more than that of Haaretz or +972.”

            Thank you Benny for saying it about +972. Like you, It is an extreme anti Israel publication, full of bias. Haaretz a bit less so but it too is a biased publication, however, unlike this publication, at least it occasionally is willing to blame the Arabs too.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Ronny Elom

      How can this law be a blow against democracy – since the Knesset ratified it?

      It appears that the Left is against democracy when it only rules against Leftist ideology!!

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      This sneaky end run in the middle of the night around the Attorney General is emblematic of the shadiness of the whole enterprise. The whole enterprise is summed up by one word: gangsters. The dishonest right wing vilification techniques filling up this very page just underscore the abiding ethic: gangsterism. These comments and these techniques testify to the very point Scheindlin makes.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Proud Miza Jew

      This is a reward for burning a baby alive and dancing about it while stabbing its picture.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Average American

      May I point out that Israel doesn’t have any right to do any land allocation at all in the occupied territories, whether by itself or by adding another layer of obfuscation with WZO. The land does not belong to Israel. Israel is supposed to be the caretaker of the occupied land, and the occupied people, until a resolution is made, WITHOUT changing anything within the occupied territories. There is no special case for Israel.

      Reply to Comment
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