Harassment Against WAC - Round Two
The Registrar of Non-Profit Associations (NPAs) in Israel, Attorney Yaron Kedar, is continuing to harass the Workers' Advice Center. His predecessor in office, Amiram Boget, was forced by court order to register WAC in 1998. Since then, the Registrar’s office has persistently tried to end the Center’s activities. The struggle has recently entered a new round.
Accusations and answers
In November 2004, the Registrar decided to dismantle WAC unless it agreed to a "recovery program" and to the appointment of an external auditor, who would in effect become the Center's manager. This decision was based on the findings of an accountant, Yomtov Bilu, who had investigated WAC for three years. Bilu made two basic charges: (1) that the Center is not fulfilling its stated objective of assisting workers; (2) that WAC is being used to channel funds and resources to a political party: the Organization for Democratic Action (ODA).
To the first charge: WAC’s activities in assisting workers have long been known to readers of Challenge. In the course of its campaign, “A Job to Win,” it has gained employment for hundreds in construction. It has helped hundreds more jobless to secure their rights. (The major articles are posted on WAC’s website.
Moreover, in the ten months that have passed since the Registrar’s decision, WAC has added activities in several fields:
A: Agriculture. After meeting with the Ministry of Agriculture, WAC has begun placing workers in this sector. It was invited to appear before the Knesset Committee for Foreign Workers, and its efforts in this sector have received widespread media coverage.
B: The Wisconsin Plan. WAC has created a committee of jobseekers from Nazareth, Wadi Ara and East Jerusalem to monitor the plan, which removes responsibility from the government and threatens to increase hardship for thousands of unemployed. (See Challenge 93.) WAC has joined a coalition of social organizations concerned about Wisconsin.
C: Construction. WAC has opened new companies to the hiring of Arab workers, and it has renewed its contact with the Contractors' Association.
D: International contacts. WAC took part in the Mediterranean Social Forum in Barcelona (June 2005). It continues to strengthen its connections with trade unions in Europe and the US.
To the second charge: ODA never received funds from WAC. The State Comptroller, who was asked by the Registrar to check whether funds had been passed from WAC to ODA on the basis of Bilu's report, notified the Registrar that there was no basis for such investigations. Moreover, ODA is a registered party in Israel which has never been convicted of breaking any law regarding party funding.
WAC operates independently in accordance with the Law of NPAs, and its members determine the direction of its work. Reports on its diverse activities, including financial reports approved by an accountant, are sent each year to the Registrar.
WAC declared in February 2005 that it would not accept the "recovery plan" proposed by the Registrar's Office, including the appointment of an external auditor, because such steps would constitute a serious infringement of its independence. The Center’s Attorney, Ophir Katz, negotiated with the Deputy Registrar in an attempt to find a formula that would enable the Center to continue to operate freely. In the understandings that resulted, WAC agreed to cooperate with the Registrar in finding and correcting any specific technical problems in the way it was managed. (In fact these had already been sorted out.)
A New Round of Struggle
Recently, without explanation, the Registrar’s office notified WAC of its intention to appoint an external auditor with far-reaching powers. He wrote, for example, in Paragraph 3: "The Center will not pay expenses or sign any agreement to pay expenses of over 7000 NIS ($1500) without the written consent in advance of the auditor." Paragraph 5: "The auditor will ensure that the Center is not breaking any laws concerning foreign workers or illegal foreign workers." Paragraph 6: "The auditor will form an opinion concerning whether any need exists to replace any functionaries in the statutory institutions of WAC or its management, and WAC will operate according to his instructions."
The significance of this decision is clear: in his desire to take control of WAC, the Registrar has withdrawn from the previous understandings.
In response, Attorney Katz wrote the Registrar as follows on October 16, 2005:
“…To the best of my knowledge, the Law of Non-Profit Associations (1980) contains no provision concerning an ‘accompanying auditor,’ nor did we find that the law authorizes the Registrar to oblige an NPA to accept such an appointment… In February this year, at a meeting in your office, we made it clear that the NPA will not agree to a recovery program, but that it would agree to a very limited accompaniment by an accountant… It should be mentioned that the NPA is working with great success in implementing and carrying out its goals, and that its administrative practice is proper and lawful. In these circumstances, there is no foundation for your interference in its administration, nor is there any justification for dismantling the NPA.”
During this latest round of struggle, many letters from key organizations have been sent to the Registrar in support of WAC. Here, in translation, are excerpts from several:
Letter to the Registrar from Attorney Dana Alexander, Director of the Legal Department, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel:
“In the light of this NPA’s history with the Registrar of NPAs, which already made it necessary to go to the courts, your step may be interpreted as a continuation of harassment against the NPA for ulterior reasons. …
“WAC makes a unique contribution in advancing the status of workers in Israel generally, and of Arab workers in particular. Harm to the NPA’s activity, apart from the harm to its freedom of organization, will aggravate the damage done to workers’ rights. This occurs in a reality where damage to workers’ rights has become a norm, and where every organization that helps workers to secure their rights is crucial.
“We ask therefore that you reconsider your decision, and that you enable WAC to continue to work in accordance with the law, as an independent NPA that advances its worthy aims in an effective manner.”
Letter to the Registrar from Dr. Roy Wagner, board member of Kav la’Oved (Worker’s Hotline):
“WAC is among the most important NPAs defending workers in Israel. In all of WAC’s activities to which I’ve been invited (public events and meetings with representatives of international organizations), I never caught the slightest hint of support for ODA. Because WAC’s activity is conspicuous in the landscape of NPAs that back the weakened workers in Israel, your attempt to interfere in its activity amounts not only to a severe violation of the freedom to organize, but also to direct support for the exploitation and weakening of workers. Your attempt will contribute, without doubt, to a deepening of poverty among the groups that benefit from WAC’s support.”
Letter to the Registrar from Attorney Yuval Elbashan, founder and director, The Clinical Legal Education Center for Human Needs and Social Responsibility, Faculty of Law, the Hebrew University:
“I address you on the basis of common work in the last two years with WAC, in the framework of the clinic for aiding the Arab minority, which is directed by Attorney Manal Hazan. Through this connection I gained the privilege of working with members of the NPA and seeing first-hand their impressive achievements in advancing human rights in general, and in particular the rights of workers in Israel. For this reason, I have been astonished for some time now at what seems to me a continuing violation, on the part of the body that you head, against the NPA’s right to organize and its consequent administrative independence. I am concerned that this … will constitute a dangerous precedent in all matters pertaining to civil society in Israel, which today is one of the few remaining guarantees for preserving the democratic character of the State.”
Letter to the Registrar from Attorney Hussein Abu Hussein, director of Ittijah, the Union of the Arab Community Based Organisations:
“It seems to us that the understandings reached through the services of Attorney Ophir Katz are beneficial to both sides within the framework of the Law of NPAs and the basic right of freedom to organize. As matters stand today, given the Registrar’s decision for a recovery plan and imposition of an external auditor, the NPA will not be able to fulfil the vital and important role that it has for its large target population, which needs it. …
“At Ittijah …we expressed our satisfaction, upon your entry into office, with the change you announced in the content and functioning of the Registrar. We believe it desirable to preserve this positive and promising atmosphere that you created on taking office. We therefore consider it fitting that you reconsider your decision to withdraw from the understandings mentioned above.”
Challenge readers, please send protest letters, referring to WAC–Ma’an, to: