As budget falters, Jewish Agency wants gov't 'partnership'

Bielski asks Knesset to "encourage" gov't to "partner" in aliya activities, programs that connect Israel and the Diaspora.

Bielski 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Bielski 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski asked the Knesset on Monday to "encourage" the government to "partner" in aliya activities and programs that connect Israel and the Diaspora. The "partnership," say Jewish Agency officials, would mean Israeli funding of some of the agency's flagship projects, especially in Jewish education programs in the former Soviet Union. The move reflects the dramatic blow Jewish Agency programs have felt as a result of the weakened dollar, the currency of most of the agency's major donors. Recently, Jeff Kaye, director-general of the agency's Department of Resource Development and Public Affairs, said the organization had lost nearly 30 percent of the value of its budget in a single year due to the declining value of the American currency. Bielski's request also aligns with a new tendency among Israeli government officials to deal with Diaspora issues at the highest levels, including a declared willingness to contribute money and manpower toward Diaspora education. Joint task forces and policy papers are currently in development by agency and government officials to examine ways of increasing Israeli involvement in these Diaspora programs. Bielski issued the request at a Monday morning meeting of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee, where MKs were sympathetic. Committee chairman Michael Nudelman (Kadima) promised to ask the government for funds for encouraging aliya, while MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima) called on the government to underwrite the Jewish education programs in the Diaspora. According to a Jewish Agency spokesman, the new concept of partnership with the government would not mean direct government funding of the agency's budget, but rather allocating funds jointly to major educational and welfare projects through shared nonprofit corporations. This model already exists. Masa, which provides money to thousands of Diaspora youth who come to Israel each year for five-month and year-long volunteer programs, is funded equally by the Jewish Agency and the Prime Minister's Office. Similarly, Naale, for youth who wish to study in Israel, is funded and administered by a combination of the Jewish Agency and the Education Ministry. The government also funds about one-quarter of birthright israel, which this year will come to over $25 million.