Achvat Amim participants on the roof of the Willy Brandt Center in Jerusalem, January 2016..
(photo credit: A. DANIEL ROTH)
A program for Diaspora Jews began a crowdfunding campaign on Monday after Masa Israel pulled its support, citing participants’ involvement in certain disputed activity in the West Bank.
The program in question is Achvat Amim, meaning “Solidarity of Nations,” which for the past four years has operated under the wing of Masa Israel, a division of the Jewish Agency.
The decision comes a month after right-wing watchdog Ad Kan went to the media saying that Achvat Amim, a program organized
by the Hashomer Hatza’ir youth group, was carrying out demonstrations in Palestinian villages and provoking IDF soldiers.
Video footage taken by participants in the program revealed members of Achvat Amim volunteering at the “Sumud Freedom Camp” – a Palestinian camp in the South Hebron Hills that was established in May and lasted some 40 days, Ad Kan said. Footage purported to show Achvat Amim participants involved with the reconstruction of this outpost and clashing with security personnel.
Achvat Amim slammed the Ad Kan report as “inaccurate and misleading,” saying that the activity in question referred to a six-week event “that brought together Israelis, Palestinians and Jews from around the world to take part in entirely legal activities – clearing, cleaning and making livable the area of the cave home of a local Palestinian family who were working to bring life back to the land they had left two decades ago.
“This was a completely legal activity for the local family to be present in their lawfully owned property and to bring guests to work with them. Achvat Amim participants who took part did so independently, in time that was not organized by the program, and were not present for anything that could be construed as civil disobedience or disobeying authorities, as is consistent with our policy and commitment to the safety and security of our participants,” the group added.
But Masa CEO Liran Avisar Ben-Horin said the decision to end collaboration with the program was not based on any report – a statement disputed by Daniel Roth, who together with his wife, Karen Isaacs, co-founded Achvat Amim.
Roth and Isaacs were the subject of an ultimatum given to Hashomer Hatza’ir, that the youth group fire the pair or it would pull funding. Hashomer Hatza’ir rejected that ultimatum.
Ben-Horin told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that Jewish Agency and Masa representatives had held hours of meetings with leaders of Achvat Amim and Hashomer Hatza’ir before taking the decision to pull their funding.
Some 120,000 Diaspora Jews aged 18-30 have participated in Masa programs since its founding in 2004 by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Jewish Agency. Its programs seek to strengthen participants’ connections to Jewish life and to the State of Israel.
Achvat Amim, which operates five-month programs for some 15 participants per year, says it directly engages with the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on the value of self-determination for all peoples.
Opportunities to learn about the conflict and receive hands-on experience volunteering with left-wing groups such as Ir Amim, Hand in Hand and the Palestine-Israel Journal are included in the experience.
According to Ben-Horin, Masa’s decision to end its affiliation with the program is based on two main points: That activity such as volunteering at the aforementioned Palestinian camp endangers participants; and that “anti-soldiers” activity has no place in Masa.
Roth objected to the characterization of the Sumud activity as “anti-soldiers,” and said: “We instructed participants to always follow Masa rules, and nobody was ever present in any situation where the IDF was present.”
Roth said he and Issacs were present at the camp when soldiers came to confiscate materials, but that the members of the camp “never did anything that could be construed as violence.”
Ben-Horin dismissed the argument that participants had gone to Sumud on their own time, saying there is “no such thing as free time” in programs of this type, and that the participants are the responsibility of Masa in all hours of the five-month programs.
Ben-Horin added that her conversations with the leaders of the Achvat Amim program had failed to convince her that the event under discussion was a one-time thing, while Roth said he and his partner had expressed willingness to enter into a meaningful dialogue “to make sure it was the type of program that felt like something all partners involved could be proud of.”
In a campaign page posted on Achvat Amim’s website, program leaders linked Masa’s decision to the Ad Kan report, which it said “would appear seeks to delegitimize any criticism of the occupation and preclude Jews from around the world from making meaningful contributions to creating a more peaceful and just society.
“Masa’s decision to withdraw its support for Achvat Amim represents a sharp deviation from its principle of advancing pluralistic discourse and education and a wide range of identities and viewpoints within the Zionist world,” it continued.
“Unfortunately, Masa’s decision excludes many young Jews whose identities involve real engagement with Israel, and narrows the scope of acceptable thinking and engagement on the issues most pressing to Israel today.”
On Achvat Amim’s fund-raising page on the YouCaring crowdfunding platform, it said that donations would cover the scholarships that its participants are now unable to access through Masa. In the campaign’s first 24 hours, it raised just over a tenth of its $30,000 goal.