Civil and Human Rights

Making Government Accountable

12 February 2014 By New Israel Fund

Last week's news that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu cut his household expenses from NIS 3.2 million in 2012 to NIS 2.4 million in 2013 was another achievement for Alona Vinograd, Executive Director of NIF grantee Movement for Freedom of Information. The organization raised a furor last year after exposing the bloated expenses of the Prime Minister's official Jerusalem residence and private Caesarea home.

The Movement for Freedom of Information was founded in 2004 by a group of journalists and lawyers, and works to create an environment in which the right to seek and receive information becomes an integral aspect of civil society. The movement works to implement the Freedom of Information Law by submitting around 100 Freedom of Information requests to public officials every year. "The information belongs to the public," Vinograd explains. When their requests are refused, they go to court. "They [the authorities] interpret the restrictions very broadly; we do it very narrowly – that's why we go to court."

After receiving her law degree, Vinograd worked with non-profits, including the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and NIF. "I didn't intend to work as a lawyer. I knew I wanted to work in civil society, and I thought that law would be a useful tool for that. I didn't think that I'd be a practicing lawyer." Then she became director of the Movement for Freedom of Information.

The Movement has had an impressive impact, with 85% of its freedom of information petitions accepted. Thanks to the Movement, the rabbinate revealed the list of mohelim who were negligent; the national crime statistics were broken down into regions; and the data schools collect on their pupils was released. However, while the Movement's work touches all walks of life, rarely does it catch the public's eye like it did following the success of its petition demanding that the Prime Minister's office publicize housing expenses."