Rare agreement in Knesset (file)
Rare agreement in Knesset (file)Israel news photo: Flash 90

Members of Knesset from across the political spectrum came together Wednesday to ask Finance Minister Yair Lapid to freeze a “draconian” measure that has left yeshivas and other NGOs facing hefty fines due to circumstances beyond their control.

MKs on the Finance Committee were angry to learn that the new regulations were signed in a hasty move by former Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud Beytenu) six days before the national elections.

Among other things, the new rules state that yeshivas can be heavily fined if students are absent during surprise inspections – even if they are absent due to hospitalization or service in the IDF reserves. A leading religious-Zionist yeshiva was fined 300,000 shekels for low attendance under the rules, even though the “missing” students had been called to reserves duty.

A regulation requiring the heads of non-profits to provide personal guarantees for funds has been frozen. However, heads of charitable organizations and other non-profits say that the remaining regulations will make their work much more difficult.

“This is a regulation that tells all the NGOs in Israel, on the right and the left, religious and secular – ‘first off, you’re liars and frauds,’” said Finance Committee head MK Nissan Slomiansky (Jewish Home).

“If the government would say, ‘We’ll take over what you were doing,’ that would be one thing, but the government isn’t planning to get into the ‘third sector’ work,” he added. He warned that the Finance Committee would take drastic action if the problematic regulations are not cancelled, up to and including a strike.

MK Yitzchak Herzog, the newly-elected head of the Labor party, agreed. “These regulations are impossible,” he said. “People come wanting to volunteer and to give towards a higher cause… This rule ties their hands and feet. People are afraid that a single small, innocent mistake will cost a heavy price.”

“You could destroy the loftiest goals of Israeli society with regulations this strict,” he warned.

MK Zevulun Kalfa accused the government of treating non-profits “like thieves.”

“There are two issues that all the parties can agree on – freeing Pollard, and that this regulation is immoral,” said MK Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home).

Shaked and Herzog have put forth a law that aims to prevent a repeat of the type of rapid decision-making that led to the new regulations. The law would require Finance Committee approval for new regulations instituted by the Finance Minister.