Boget showed hostility toward WAC’s founders from the beginning. When they applied for registration in 1998, he raised obstacle after obstacle, until finally, in the year 2000, he announced his refusal. WAC turned to the district court in Jerusalem. The court failed to understand why WAC was such anathema in the Registrar’s eyes. He wrapped his case in administrative pretexts that failed to persuade the judge, who forced him to go through with the registration.
The hostility did not stop after Boget registered WAC in May 2000. A year later, on June 17, 2001, he appointed an accountant to investigate it, having – in his words – “suspicions that the NPA is not acting to achieve its goals but constitutes, rather, a cover for political activity. The NPA includes active members who were formerly part of the group known as Derech Hanitzotz, which established, a number of years ago, a political party called Da’am, the Organization for Democratic Action.”
WAC’s leadership does include people who, in the 1980’s, belonged to Derech Hanitzotz. Accused of (then illegal) contact with the PLO, four of its members went to prison for terms ranging between nine and thirty months. (The prisoners were adopted by Amnesty International as Prisoners of Conscience, and also by International PEN.) In 1995, they helped create the Organization for Democratic Action (ODA – or Da’am in Arabic), which has run in all the Knesset elections since then. Here we get to the nub of the Registrar’s antipathy. It is not WAC’s purposes that bother him, but rather its ideological proximity to ODA. WAC’s leaders have never denied this proximity.
Here is a translation of the charges related to the connection between WAC and ODA with our responses. We use boldface to distinguish the Registrar’s words from our own.
It emerges from the report that the NPA [WAC] acted in consort with other NPAs to advance the political party ODA [Organization for Democratic Action], and this in contravention of its registered purposes, which are as follows: “To aid and guide workers with the purpose of improving their wages and their social benefits. To act to raise the status of the worker in the society. To conduct social and cultural activities for workers.” It also violated the law that concerns the financing of parties.
- WAC has acted only for its registered purposes. WAC’s members today include more than 600 workers, few of whom belong to ODA. In the last four years, WAC has signed wage agreements with fifteen construction companies, among them the largest in Israel. It has ensured jobs for hundreds of Israeli citizens. Its representatives take part on a regular basis in the discussions of the Knesset Committee on Migrant Workers. It is recognized as a representative body by the Employment Service and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. It appears frequently in the press as a spokesperson for Arab construction workers.
- Let it be clear at the outset that there is a perfectly legitimate connection between ODA and WAC. Members of ODA were among the people who founded WAC in 1998, because they believed that certain labor sectors in Israel, especially the Arab, were suffering from lack of representation. Some of these people, while remaining members in ODA, are active in WAC. Every Israeli citizen has the right to belong to a political party and to work in an NPA that is connected ideationally with that party. This is legal, normal and acceptable. A problem arises, indeed, if the NPA departs from its registered aims in order to advance the interests of the political party. The Registrar accuses WAC of having done this, but the accusation is baseless.
- With regard to the financing of parties, WAC provided Mr. Bilu with all its documents, hundreds of them, including its financial records. The Bilu Report does not indicate a single instance where money passed from or through WAC to ODA, directly or indirectly. The investigator did not find a single case of corruption or unreasonable expenses or expenses not accounted for. The Bilu Report does not mention any expenses paid by WAC on behalf of ODA.
These NPAs [Hanitzotz Publishing House and Sindyanna of Galilee] were established and operated by central activists of ODA: the founders of the party and central figures in it receive wages from the NPAs, and some of them receive automobiles, mobile phones, and trips abroad at the expense of the NPAs.
- It is strange to find this statement in a list of accusations. No law prohibits even “central figures” in a political party from working for an NPA, receiving salaries from an NPA, etc.
- As for the supposed benefits and perks, the Bilu Report omits to mention the specific facts. Here they are. From the topmost official in WAC to the office clerks, all receive the same salary, which is equal to the minimum wage of 3,335 NIS monthly ($760). (By comparison, NPAs supported by public funds give their top officials a monthly salary equal to at least five times this amount.) Mr. Bilu knows very well that the WAC staff does not seek special benefits.
- As for automobiles, WAC has only one, which is shared among its three field coordinators.
- As for mobile phones, the investigator brings no evidence that the phones of WAC’s field coordinators were used for purposes other than WAC’s.
- As for trips abroad at the expense of the NPAs, all trips by WAC representatives were made to further its registered aims. On 90% of the occasions, foreign trade unions invited WAC representatives to speak and paid the expenses.
Despite the energetic activity of the NPA [WAC] in the field of job placement for workers, it appears that in recent years the NPA acted mainly to advance the ODA party.
- The Bilu Report, on which the Registrar bases this article, acknowledges indeed that WAC carried on “energetic activity in the field of job placement”. But here the report adds “that the real and hidden purpose of this activity has been to advance ODA”. The hidden purpose? If it is hidden, then how does Mr. Bilu know about it? Or is it no longer hidden? Has he brought the hidden purpose to light? But if so, why does he show no evidence?
- What does the Registrar mean that “in recent years” the NPA acted mainly to advance the ODA party”? Which years? WAC was only registered in the year 2000, and the Registrar began his investigation in 2001. These “recent years” have included WAC’s greatest achievements toward its registered aims.
Why is the Registrar so keen on dismantling WAC?
In the Bilu Report we read that WAC and the NPAs it cooperates with, “were established and operated by central activists in the ODA party.” As said, there is nothing wrong with this. ODA is a legal political party that runs for Knesset elections. Why then does Mr. Bilu make this remark?
He and the Registrar have certain persons in mind. For let us read further: “As communicated to me, these activists stem from ‘Derech Hanitzotz’…” (“Communicated” by whom? The General Security Services?) The investigator then mentions the activists by name: “Assaf Adiv, Yacov Ben Efrat, Roni Ben Efrat, Hadas Lahav, Tsipora Freedman and Michal Schwartz.”
The Registrar’s investigator mentions these facts of 16 years ago without saying what possible relevance they can have. Nothing in the law prohibits former political prisoners from leading an NPA, forming or joining a political party, or participating in both. But the Registrar conveys the subliminal message that regardless of the law, such a thing should not be allowed. The political stance of certain WAC members, it would seem, is a thorn in the flesh of the new Registrar, as it was in that of his predecessor.