Finance Minister’s Racist Decision to Freeze Aid for NGOs Is Not Legal

The office of Attorney General and the legal adviser at the Finance Ministry have ruled that Finance Minister Israel Katz does not have the authority to halt government funding that had been earmarked for nonprofit organizations (NGOs) affected by the coronavirus crisis. Last Monday, twenty-one MKs from the Joint List, Meretz, Labor and Yesh Atid signed a letter to Attorney General Dr. Avichai Mendelblit, calling on him to ensure that all nonprofits suffering financially from the coronavirus crisis get government assistance.

Physicians for Human Rights clinic for refugees and asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv

Physicians for Human Rights clinic for refugees and asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv (Photo: PHR)

The MKs’ letter followed a report in Haaretz that the Finance Minister had ordered holding up a government aid package to nonprofit associations so that no assistance go to groups assisting refugees and asylum seekers. In the wake of the newspaper report, some 60 social welfare groups also wrote to Katz and Labor and Social Affairs Minister Itzik Shmuli, asking them to “Rise above narrow political considerations and lend a hand to any needy person, whether he’s a citizen or a migrant.”

Katz had ordered the freezing of a government assistance program for charities that help poor populations in need following pressure from far-right activists who objected to the funds also being directed to organizations that aid refugees and asylum seeker. The total allotment of 53 million shekels ($15.4 million) in aid had been earmarked for 23 non-profit organizations that have been significantly affected by the pandemic, among them groups assisting Holocaust survivors, homeless, victims of sexual assault, and other needy persons including African asylum seekers and refugees.

After a campaign of public pressure by far-right activists, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair, Katz directed the freezing of the aid package, telling his office’s legal adviser that some of the groups set to receive funds “carry out activities contrary to the values and policies of the government.” Hadash MK Ofer Cassif (Joint List) responded to the Finance Minister’s remark saying, “Katz is right: racism is one of the key values and policies of Netanyahu’s government.”

Related: Racist FM Katz Delays NGO Aid to Keep Funds from Asylum Seekers