Funding Crisis Threatening Future of Israeli Masa Program for Diaspora Jews Averted – for Now

What will happen in future years is still not clear, as the controversy over business limitations on Masa's largest trip organizer remains unresolved

Participants on a Masa program to Israel attending a Memorial Day event, April 2017.

A funding crisis that threatened the future of Masa, an organization that runs hundreds of programs in Israel for young Jews living abroad, has been averted – for the time being, at least. 

In a letter sent over the weekend, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky notified members of his board of governors that all applicants who had planned on participating in Masa programs in the current academic year “will be able to come as originally planned.”

Intimating that the crisis has not been entirely resolved, Sharansky wrote: “We are working diligently with our partners in order to ensure that registration for the 2018-2019 program year will open on time and that the programs will operate as planned.”

The crisis, which erupted last month and brought future registrations to a halt, concerned the operations of Israel Experience, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Jewish Agency that is the single largest trip organizer for Masa.

Launched 13 years ago, Masa brings about 12,000 young Jews from around the world to Israel each year on educational, volunteer and internship programs. It was launched as a joint venture between the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency, which subsidize participants.

In order to avoid the possibility of a conflict of interest, the agreement signed between the government and the Jewish Agency stipulates that Israel Experience is to be restricted to no more than 20 percent of all Masa business. Because Israel Experience had surpassed that limit, the Prime Minister’s Office notified the Jewish Agency that it would not transfer any more funds to its subsidiary. 

In recent days, the Jewish Agency struck an agreement with Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman that will not force applicants who signed up for programs through Israel Experience to move to other trip organizer.

The Prime Minister’s Office said it would be willing to overlook the 20 percent ceiling for this year.

What will happen next year and in the following years, however, is still not clear, as the Prime Minister’s Office has not agreed to do away with the limitation on Israel Experience for good.
 
Masa publishes projections for participation in its programs at the beginning of the academic year.  Israel Experience CEO Amos Hermon told Haaretz that he signed up participants with these projections in mind. But because other trip organizers fell short of the projections, he said, his company ended up with a larger share of the business than it was allowed. 

According to Hermon, close to 350 applicants who had registered for programs through Israel Experience were notified that they faced possible cancellations if they did not re-register with other trip organizers. Of these, 24 applicants cancelled because they were not interested in other programs. 

“We are now trying to locate these 24 applicants and find them alternative programs with us,” he said. 

As for coming years, Israel Experience planned to limit registrations “to be on the safe side,” Hermon said.

“It’s a shame, because we have the potential to bring hundred, if not thousands, of additional participants in Masa programs to Israel each year,” he added

A proposal that the Jewish Agency divest itself of its holding in Israel Experience, according to a senior official in the organization, “is no longer on the table.”