Future of Masa program uncertain amid disagreement between partners

Hundreds of internships have been cancelled due to bureaucratic issue. Legal Counsel has warned of a conflict of interest.

January 14, 2018 12:26
3 minute read.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) has his photo taken with members of Masa before atten

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) has his photo taken with members of Masa before attending a weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem March 30, 2014. Masa is a programme that provides educational trips in Israel for young Jewish adults.. (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)

The future of Masa, an organization that brings thousands of Diaspora Jews to Israel every year, is uncertain after the legal adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office asked that a contractual relationship between the organization’s founding partners, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Jewish Agency, be reviewed.

Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon reported over the weekend that legal adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office Shlomit Barnea Fargo had asked to stop transferring funds to Masa due to a “conflict of interests.”

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Masa, however, said there was not an issue of funding, but rather a possible restructuring of the partnership between the Prime Minister’s Office and Jewish Agency.

Masa was founded in 2004 by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Jewish Agency in a bid to strengthen the connections of Diaspora Jews to Jewish life and the State of Israel. Some 120,000 Diaspora Jews aged 18 to 30 have participated in Masa programs.

The agreement between the government and the Jewish Agency states that Israel Experience, a subsidiary company of the Jewish Agency, will not supply services to more than 20% of the program´s participants as it is ultimately transferring money internally. According to Makor Rishon, Barnea Fargo charged that Masa has exceeded that.

But Masa CEO Liran Avisar Ben-Horin told The Jerusalem Post the organization has abided by all aspects of the contract and due to the limitation on Israel Experience’s operations had to turn down hundreds of young adults who sought to come to Israel this year for Masa-organized internships.

Israel Experience operations include subsidized internship programs, fellowships, service learning and volunteer programs ranging from six weeks to 10 months.

CEO of Israel Experience Amos Hermon told the Post on Sunday that his organization had to call up 340 participants – who were registered to come to Israel for internships at the end of this month and in the coming months – and tell them it would no longer be possible.

“We started telling students that because of all sorts of problems in Israel we are very sorry, but they can’t come to the program in the coming months... These are very difficult conversations,” he said, adding that many of them have already begun looking for alternatives in different countries.

The numbers of participants covered by the 20% quota depends on the total amount of Masa participants. Hermon said because this number is decided by how many participants the other organizers bring, Israel Experience was only informed at the end of the year of the final number and therefore only then did it come to light that there was a surplus.

“We really hope that the PMO will act quickly on the matter so that fewer students will cancel their arrival in Israel in the coming months” he added.

The Jewish Agency said in a statement: “It is inconceivable that Jewish young people will be unable to visit and experience life in Israel, some as part of their aliya process, due solely to bureaucratic circumstances that are preventing the transfer of the funds. We are working with the Government Secretariat to find a solution as swiftly as possible.”

Cabinet secretary Tzachi Braverman told the Post that “the PMO will continue this project. We are in contact with the Jewish Agency in order to continue the project.”

“The legal adviser did not ask to stop the funds...but to review the relationship for next year,” he added. “It’s an important project and it will continue.”

Masa expressed optimism that no long-term damage would be caused and a resolution would be reached between the relevant parties before registration for next year opens.

“This year we celebrate 13 years as the leader in long-term career and leadership development experiences in Israel, during which 120,000 young adults from around the world have lived Israel like locals,” Masa said in a statement. “These deep, authentic encounters with Israel and the Jewish People have produced unparalleled impact for the Jewish world and Israel, and Masa is confident that our founding partners will find a way to solve the issues so that this valuable project continues to thrive, and to shape the Jewish future.”

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