The Prime Minister’s Office has decided to take a step away from training programs funded by private foundations for its employees, following accusations that they were not monitored and were involved in the indoctrination of the participants.
The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee held a heated debate on Wednesday to “examine the state’s relations with the Wexner Foundation, which exist in violation of the law and proper management.”
“My goal is that the State of Israel and each of its authorities will not send civil servants into the unknown, to a foreign foundation with undemocratic and even anarchistic influence,” said Member of Knesset (MK) Shlomo Karhi, who initiated the session.
The controversy surrounding the Wexner Foundation surfaced in Israel following the exposure of a multi-million dollar grant Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak received, ostensibly to conducted research on their behalf.
A Foundation representative told the media that Barak was paid to write two books, one which he did write but was not published, and the second which he did not write but did not return the grant. The representative refused to divulge any further details.
Karhi said that “The Foundation’s (dealings) with Ehud Barak (raise many questions). After years of silence, the Foundation remembered to present documents to the press explaining what Barak received the money for. According to information in my possession, the document that was published is full of lies, and its content raises severe questions.”
He alleged that the payment may have been an illegal payment for Barak’s 2004 campaign.
Karhi said the main issue, in his eyes, is that senior officials are sent to fully funded studies “at a foreign and problematic foundation.”
In defense of the Foundation, former Air Force Commander Ido Nehushtan, who chairs the Wexner Foundation’s Israel Advisory Committee, said that Foundation founder Leslie Wexner is an “enthusiastic Zionist whose sole wish is to contribute to the State of Israel by training and improving its entire public service.”
He said that in the Foundation’s 31 years of activity in Israel, 532 people have graduated from the Wexner Fellowship Program, and they are “spread over the length and breadth of the public service.”
Graduates of the program include high-ranking members of Israel’s judiciary, military and other branches of public service, including Supreme Court Justice Uzi Vogelman, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, Strategic Affairs Minister (Blue and White) Orit Farkash-Hacohen, and senior State Attorney’s Office official Osnat Mandel.
The Foundation, Nehushtan claimed, is “apolitical” and has always worked in full cooperation with the Civil Service Commission and the Prime Minister’s Office, “in accordance with the law and the procedures that were put in place.”
“The Foundation has made the nature of its relations with Ehud Barak 15 years ago very clear; it was scrutinized by the authorized bodies, and it was (determined) that there was no wrongdoing. There is no justification for harming a philanthropic enterprise named after a man who, for decades, has donated a massive sum for the benefit of the State of Israel,” he added.
Tamar Peleg-Amir of the Prime Minister’s Office said that “we are pleased with the decision to regulate extra-governmental bodies and to regulate programs of this kind, and the PMO’s Director General has asked to advance this important regulation, with our office’s participation.”
Until the regulation of contacts with extra-governmental bodies in continuing education programs of this kind is formulated, the PMO will freeze the participation of his employees in such programs, she announced.
During the hearing, Attorney Ziv Maor, a member of the Im Tirtzu watchdog’s Legal Division, said that the Wexner Israel Fellowship has “a sharp left-wing bias and encourages public officials to undermine the orders of the ministers.”
“The cooperation between the government and the Foundation is illegal because it provides public servants with gifts amounting to millions of shekels in violation of the Gift Law. After more than 30 years of this program, the time has come to put an end to it.”
Committee Chairman MK Yakov Asher asked that the Committee be updated on the regulation of the contacts with the Wexner Foundation and other extra-governmental bodies.