Agency spokesman promises that the unique youth aliya program will survive.
By HAVIV RETTIG GUR
Amid concerns that Jewish Agency cutbacks were threatening the continued operation of Na'aleh, an agency spokesman promised the unique youth aliya program would survive, one way or another.
On Tuesday, an emergency meeting of the Knesset Absorption and Immigration Committee will discuss the possibility that "the Jewish Agency's decision to withdraw from the program threatened its very existence," according to a statement by the Na'aleh Alumni Association.
Na'aleh, a Hebrew acronym for "youth making aliya before their parents," is a joint government-Jewish Agency program that brings young Jews to Israel to study.
Ninety percent of participants - some 10,000 young people since the program began in 1991 - have made aliya. Currently, 1,200 young Jews from 38 countries, one-third of them from Western countries, are here on the program.
On Sunday, The Jerusalem Post reported concerns among Na'aleh staff and alumni that the program was going to collapse. The Jewish Agency had stopped marketing Na'aleh in the former Soviet Union in December and was seriously considering scaling back its financial participation in the program, which, at $5m. constitutes much of the project's budget.
The agency's move comes as part of a $45m. cut in its budget necessitated by a weak dollar and shrinking donations in a time of near-global recession.
One alumni, David, called the alleged Jewish Agency decision "terrible and irresponsible," and called on the government to step in and make up the missing funds.
But Jewish Agency spokesman Alex Selsky insisted that "the program is fully operational at this moment.
The marketing teams have returned to their countries, and everything is operating normally."
He said the marketing freeze took place during a financial review the agency was conducting to find ways of becoming more efficient in tough economic times.
Furthermore, "even though we are scaling back funding for many programs because of budget cuts, we're going to find the means to keep this important program going," he said.
While he would not specify where these funds would be found, an agency official familiar with the situation said the agency would ask the Israeli government to increase its support for the project and would seek new sources of funding from overseas donors.
"The program is fine for now, but its future will come up again in February when the [agency's] Board of Governors meets," he said.
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