Police bust Haredi sect suspected of forging ID cards to get more state money

Police raid offices of three non-profit organizations associated with educational institutions in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Haaretz/November 22, 2010

Six ultra-Orthodox educational institutions are the subject of a lengthy police investigation over suspicions they cheated the state out of tens of millions of shekels through the use of fake ID cards, Jerusalem district police disclosed yesterday.

The police raided the offices Sunday morning of three non-profit organizations associated with educational institutions in Jerusalem's Mea She'arim neighborhood as well as in Ramat Beit Shemesh and in the West Bank settlement of Betar Ilit.

Police are said to have confiscated more than 1,000 counterfeit identification cards in the raids, in addition to a printer for the printing of the cards,rubber stamps, a laminating machine and other items.

Six of the organizations' leaders were arrested and four other suspects were detained for questioning. Among those detained were a father and his two sons, who are suspected of leading the alleged counterfeiting ring.

The fake ID cards are said to have been presented to the state to support claims for monthly allocations from the Education Ministry in connection with students who purportedly were studying at the schools but were allegedly not students there. The initial investigation shows that ID cards were presented using real names of individuals, apparently without their knowledge. The cards are said to have featured their real ID numbers but with pictures of other people. Police suspect the organizations told the Education Ministry that hundreds of students attended each ultra-Orthodox school, when in fact only a few dozen studied at each institution.

Chief Superintendent Haim Shmueli of the Jerusalem police said yesterday he believes dozens of other organizations are involved. Police sources expect additional arrests will be made in the case in the near future. Police are also looking into where the money paid by the Education Ministry ultimately went.

The schools and non-profit organizations under investigation belong to the so-called "Masmidim" community of institutions. Yesterday rumors circulated in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods that informants from a rival Haredi community allegedly directed the police to the suspects. The rumors, however, remain unsubstantiated.

Masmidim is the name of a yeshiva in the Mea She'arim neighborhood. The group has grown over the years into a major ultra-Orthodox community with branches in Beit Shemesh and the West Bank settlements of Betar Ilit and Modi'in Ilit. The community is headed by Rabbi Leib Mintzberg, a major Haredi figure, who serves as a kind of spiritual leader for the entire community.

The Jerusalem Masmidim yeshiva was established after Israel's independence by rabbis from the so-called "Old Yishuv," the community of Jews living in the country before the rise of Zionism.

The Masmidim rabbis somewhat distanced themselves from the Old Yishuv's anti-Zionist doctrine, a central tenet of which was refraining from accepting state allocations. The Masmidim accept state funding and also vote in elections, for which zealots of the more extreme Eda Haredit ultra-Orthodox communities bear a continuing grudge. Rumors circulating suggest zealots contacted the police to incriminate their long-time ideological rivals.

Police suspect that the Masmidim forged ID cards of Eda Haredit members whose education was not funded by the government. Police said the operation was an effort to inflate the amount of state funding the Masmidim received.

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