For the first time, the government is considering becoming a direct funder of the Jewish Agency. Soon after becoming its head in June, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky asked Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to help the agency cover its expected budget deficit in 2010. The move comes as part of Sharansky's plan to refrain from cutting the agency's budget next year, during which time the agency will conduct a thorough reexamination of its funding priorities and fund-raising strategies. Now, The Jerusalem Post has learned, the government is developing a practical plan for covering any budget shortage caused by a years-long decline in donations and the global financial slowdown. According to a government source, the Finance Ministry is preparing to contribute up to $12 million toward the shortfall. While Finance Ministry officials oppose the plan, the order to make the funds available came from the Prime Minister's Office, the source said. The move would mark the first time the government contributed directly to the agency's core budget. Previously, government funds went not to the agency itself, but to joint programs, such as Masa and birthright. Agency officials would not comment on the significance of the move in terms of future Israeli funding of the agency, which historically has been funded solely by Diaspora groups such as the Jewish Federations of North America (until recently called the UJC) and Keren Hayesod/United Israel Appeal. An agency representative denied on Tuesday that a specific plan has been developed or that any dollar amount has been decided upon. But the representative confirmed that "a joint professional committee headed by the directors-general of the PMO and the agency has been established and was tasked with coordinating the cooperation between the two bodies. It is also specifically working on finding ways to make up the agency's budget deficit." Methods being considered by the committee include government assistance in "realizing" - profiting from - agency properties in Israel, the representative said.