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Finance Minister Yair Lapid (R) sits across from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the cabinet meeting in Jerusalem..(Photo by: REUTERS)
Report: Netanyahu blocks Lapid’s Birthright cut
Lapid and Netanyahu agreed on an outline for the 2015 budget before Rosh Hashanah.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid wanted to cut state support for Taglit-Birthright and Masa but the Prime Minister’s Office stopped him, Army Radio reported on Wednesday.

Birthright provides Diaspora youths aged 18 to 26 with free 10-day trips to Israel while Masa subsidizes participation in a variety of educational programs.

Lapid and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu agreed on an outline for the 2015 state budget before Rosh Hashana.

Lapid had previously said that the cost of the summer war with Hamas would be covered by a 2 percent across-the-board cut in the 2014 budget.

The state funds Birthright together with several American philanthropists, the Jewish Federations of North America, the United Israel Appeal and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

In the decade following Birthright’s establishment, the state provided $100m. to this end.

Birthright enjoys strong public support and Lapid himself credited the program with “sav[ing] a generation” of young Jews in a speech at a Birthright event in June.

Several days before making that remark, Lapid was the sole member of the cabinet to vote against funding the World Jewish Joint Initiative, a joint state-Diaspora program intended to use taxpayer shekels to fund initiatives to strengthen Jewish identity in communities abroad. Part of the initiative’s focus is to create programs to follow up with Birthright participants.

Birthright has brought more than 400,000 young Jews, most for the first time and none of whom had participated in an organized program in the country, to Israel. Studies haves linked participation with a lowered likelihood of intermarriage.

A spokeswoman for Lapid declined to comment on the Army Radio report when contacted by The Jerusalem Post, as did an aide to Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett, who chairs Taglit-Birthright’s steering committee.

Asked about Netanyahu’s role in preserving state funding for the programs, a spokesman said he did not have any information on the matter and would check but did not provide a comment by press time.

The Jewish Agency welcomed the decision to keep funding Birthright and Masa.

Spokesman Avi Mayer said it is important to understand that “the return on the government’s investment in these programs vastly exceeds the government’s allocations thereto, and both Birthright and Masa have proven to be significant boons to the Israeli economy, particularly at times of crisis.”

The Taglit-Birthright program has contributed more than $750 m. to Israel’s economy since its establishment, according to a January study by international accounting firm Ernst & Young.

Birthright did not respond to a request for comment.

Niv Elis contributed to this report.
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