Parties Raise Millions Abroad For Nov. 1 Election
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israeli parties are spending about $30 million on the Nov. 1 election campaign, and a large chunk of that is donated by people not even eligible to vote - Jews who live abroad.
The fund-raising process is shrouded in secrecy, primarily because the law does not require public disclosure. But reports indicate both the right-wing Likud bloc and the leftist Labor Party have raised millions of dollars abroad.
The U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith estimated more than $50 million dollars may be raised by Israel’s parties, with one-third of it coming from the United States and elsewhere overseas.
Michal Cohen, spokeswoman of Foreign Minister Shimon Peres’ Labor Party, said most of the ″big sums″ are from abroad.
″Most of the money is from overseas - the United States, Canada, France, the Jews of South Africa. The lion’s share is from the United States,″ she said without elaborating.
A spokesman for the Likud leader, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, confirmed funds are coming from abroad even though Shamir frequently has criticized outside Jewish groups for taking stands on divisive political issues.
″That’s the way it is, and both parties do it,″ said Yossi Ahimeir, Shamir’s spokesman. ″It’s possible this is an issue that should be reconsidered.″
The Anti-Defamation League has urged Israel to amend the elections law to require full disclosure of foreign sources of funding.
″It is unhealthy to have outsiders so heavily influencing elections in a country where they don’t live,″ said Harry Wall, head of the league’s Israeli branch. ″It invites diaspora Jews into the debate.″
Some observers say this is only natural given Israel’s traditionally close ties with Jews overseas.
″Jews in America do not and should not have decision-making powers, but it is in Israel’s interest for them to be as involved as possible and to express what kind of a Jewish state they want,″ said Emanuel Gutman, a political scientist.
Swiss millionaire Bruce Rappoport had lunch with Peres recently, and the independent Hadashot newspaper said he contributed $1.5 million to Labor.
U.S. millionaire Meshulam Riklis contributed $1 million to Likud, the newspaper said.
The Washington Post has reported Peres raised $2 million during a nine-day trip to the United States in June and that former U.N. Ambassador Benjamin Netanyahu raised almost $1 million for Likud on a similar visit.
Labor contributors include CBS chairman Lawrence Tisch, Walt Disney chairman Michael Eisner and Chicago businessman Philip Klutznick, according to the Boston Globe.
Israel’s Political Financing Law provides half the campaign funding by allocating each party $123,750 for every member of Parliament.
Thus, each major party receives about $5 million, a sum that may be doubled through private fund-raising efforts.
The law’s loopholes are numerous.
Although corporate contributions are outlawed, there is no ceiling on individual contributions.
Former State Comptrollers Yitzhak Tunik and Yaacov Maltz have suggested in previous campaigns that individual contributions as high as $500,000 may be masking business donations. They declined comment on the current campaign.
While U.S. laws carry both civil and criminal penalties, the only penalty prescribed by Israeli law is to withhold 15 percent of the government funding if one exceeds the allowed expenditures.
U.S. law bars donations from foreign nationals and limits individual contributions to $1,000 and donations of political action committees to $5,000. Public disclosure is necessary.
In Israel, only the state comptroller oversees the party’s books, and the information is never made public.
But in an interview, former Attorney General Yitzhak Zamir said this aspect of the law has never been put to a court test, and it is possible a court would overturn the secrecy clause.
One Likud member of Parliament, Michael Eitan, has proposed amending the law to limit individual contributions to about $3,000 and said he will resubmit his proposal after the elections.
″It’s become a scandal, a national holiday with a lot of money being spent and a real disruption to the state,″ Eitan said.
He called for a shorter campaigning period, with more public debates and fewer paid advertisements.