Diaspora Ministry officially canceled funding for joint venture

The offices of the Social Economic Academy received an official letter from the ministry that gave a few explanations of why the agreement was canceled.

 DIASPORA AFFAIRS Minister Amichai Chikli will have to fight in the government on behalf of Jewish communities all over the world, says the writer. (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
DIASPORA AFFAIRS Minister Amichai Chikli will have to fight in the government on behalf of Jewish communities all over the world, says the writer.
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

The Diaspora Affairs Ministry, headed by Amichai Chikli (Likud), officially canceled funding for a joint venture with an Israeli nonprofit on Wednesday, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The NIS 5 million in government funds had been allocated to the Social Economic Academy (SEA), which was supposed to begin its work at the beginning of December.

The ministry confirmed that the cooperation has been canceled but wouldn’t comment further. The point that Chikli and his staff made is that the ministry had the right of cancellation, which appeared in the original agreement with the academy. They stressed that it wasn’t an issue of Right or Left politics, but rather the fact that the agreement was signed after the elections, with huge budgets allocated for a relatively small organization.

The offices of SEA received an official letter from the ministry on Wednesday that gave a few explanations for why the agreement was canceled, citing Chikli’s claim that the nonprofit is “political.” The minister tweeted about the joint venture on Saturday and said that he is going to freeze the program.

“About a week after the elections, the Diaspora Ministry approved an engagement agreement with a political organization, without a tender, at a cost of millions of shekels,” Chikli’s tweet reads. “My first directive in the position was to immediately stop this terrible decision that is the opposite of minimum standards of professional ethics.”

The likely reason for Chikli’s presumption is that the SEA is funded primarily by the Berl Katznelson Foundation (BKF), a nonprofit which promotes distinctly left-wing economic policies and is close to Labor Party circles. However, the academy said that their financial support from the foundation is very minimal.

According to its website, the SEA is “a nonprofit organization that combines education, training and activism to advance social justice and equality in Israel.” The site further states that the academy’s goals are “to disseminate knowledge and knowhow about social and economic issues to different groups; foster and train leadership from within these groups; and increase public support for progressive ideas and policies in Israel.”

 MK AMICHAI CHIKLI attends the House Committee meeting in the Knesset last week at which he was declared a defector. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) MK AMICHAI CHIKLI attends the House Committee meeting in the Knesset last week at which he was declared a defector. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The website lists the activities that are supported by the BKF, the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, the New Israel Fund, “and income from programs funded by local government, workers’ unions, community organizations, pre-army academies and other groups studying with the SEA.”

The BKF said in response: “The SEA, which is supported by the Berl Katznelson Foundation, is in no way a subsidiary of our foundation. The foundation financially supports the SEA, as do several other foundations.” The director-general of the foundation once ran the academy; they are both organizations that are considered to be progressive.

The initiative was intended to promote the cooperation of Israeli and North American Jews, according to their professions, in order to create more awareness of the existence of Diaspora Jews, in addition to fostering long-lasting relationships.

It was promoted by then-minister Nachman Shai (Labor) and his director-general Tziona Koenig Yair, who wanted to invest in unaffiliated and progressives Jews in the US in order to strengthen their relationships with Israel and Judaism.

Chikli hinted to freezing joint venture

During the official transition ceremony in the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, Chikli hinted towards the freezing of the joint venture.

An official at SEA told the Post that they approached Chikli a number of times but he wouldn’t meet with them before making the decision.

In response, Shai tweeted that, “contrary to the reports, all engagements made by the Diaspora Affairs Ministry during my tenure were made according to professional standards with the approval of the authorized officials in the ministry, as well as the Finance and Justice ministries.” He added that all projects were intended to “promote the ministry’s goals. I stand behind every single project.”