The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews remains firmly behind a flagship project, City Without Violence, despite scandalous and embarrassing exposes of alleged behind-the-scenes corruption and improper tenders that may involve Minister of Education Gideon Sa'ar, a top policeman, a former Ministry of Public Security Director and the Mayor of Eilat.
ICFJ, a philanthropy headed by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, told Israel National News that it had heard no allegations of impropriety regarding the program or its operators.
At the center of the storm is Dr. Orly Innes, an expert on the subject of violence, who founded the City Without Violence project and heads it. The project is described as the Israeli government's “flagship program for coping with anti-social behavior, violence , delinquency and crime” and a “multi-disciplinary system-wide program, dealing with all types of violent situations, crime and anti-social behaviors occurring” in the cities where it is implemented.
Innes found herself in the national spotlight in the past weeks after she complained to the Justice Ministry's Police Investigations Department that a top police officer, Major General Uri Bar-Lev, sexually harassed her when they went for a walk at a City Without Violence conference in Eilat two years ago. The allegations surfaced just as the Minister of Public Security was about to announce his selection for the next Police Commissioner – a post for which Bar-Lev was considered the favored candidate. Innes's allegations led to a PID investigation of Bar-Lev. This investigation culminated in a PID recommendation that Bar-Lev be put on trial and forced him to suspend himself from active duty. His candidacy for the police's top spot has been shelved.
Innes herself came under a flurry of accusations as well, however. The timing of her complaint, two years after the alleged incident, was seen by many Israelis as suspicious.
In addition, it was alleged – in the News1 website, in a complaint filed by watchdog anti-corruption group Ometz to the State Comptroller and elsewhere – that the government tender for heading the multimillion-dollar City Without Violence project had been illegally molded in a way that ensured Innes would receive the position. According to a series of exposes, the former director of the Ministry of Public Security, Haggai Peleg, had used his influence to assist her in winning the tender. He later changed his mind – supposedly after receiving complaints that the CWV project was not achieving its aims – tried to have the terms of the tender changed and then resigned his post in the Ministry.
The exposes went on to list men in positions of power with whom Innes – a recently divorced mother of four – had alleged "relationships” over the years. These supposedly include Meir Yitzchak HaLevy, the mayor of Eilat (where the CWV project began as a pilot program), who testified in her favor regarding the allegations against Bar-Lev, Minister of Education Gideon Sa'ar, who allegedly also corroborated her version of the event involving Bar-Lev, as well as Peleg.
A meteoric climb
According to Ometz, Dr. Yigal Ben-Shalom, the former Director of National Insurance Institute, also assisted Innes' meteoric climb to the status of a highly-regarded expert on violence, while circumventing proper procedures.
The State Comptroller is reportedly looking into the allegations.
Innes decided of her own volition to waive her right to anonymity as a complainant in the harassment case, and to publicly reveal her full name and identity. She did so at an annual event for female victims of violence on November 25 and was televised live nationwide, receiving the backing of much of the feminist establishment. Much of the public were unconvinced that she should be seen as a victim and some feminist columnists accused her of damaging the credibility of female complainants.
The IFCJ Fellowship Fund's full response to Israel National News's query on the matter was as follows:
"The Fellowship Fund supports and accompanies the City Without Violence project since its inception as a pilot in the city of Eilat, and up to its acceptance as the Ministry of Public Security's flagship program. The project has brought about far-reaching results in combating phenomena of violence in Israel, and this is evidenced by the fact that dozens of communities have joined the program while many others ask for and await the chance to join in the future. We have never received information about any improprieties relating to the program or its operators. Therefore, the Fellowship Fund, as a fund that cares for the welfare of the citizens of Israel and for the country's social strength, is proud to continue to be a senior partner on the project.”
The organization received media publicity this week when its head accused Interior Minister Eli Yishai of refusing its offer of fire trucks recently because of the organization's alleged connections with missionary funding.
Gideon Saar and Rabbi Eckstein flank PM Netanyahu (file) / Flash 90