Future of Israeli Program for Diaspora Jews in Limbo Over Funding Dispute

Masa programs have been frozen due to a disagreement between its partners: the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency

Participants at the Masa Israel Leadership Summit, 2013.
Courtesy Samuel Lebens

The future of Masa, which brings thousands of young Jews from around the world to Israel each year, is in limbo over a decision by the government to withhold its share of funding from the program.

As reported over the weekend in the Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon, the Prime Ministers Office, which is in charge of transferring the government funds, said it would not hand them over because of a possible conflict of interest involving the Jewish Agency, its partner in the program.

Masa offers hundreds of subsidized educational, volunteer and internship programs in Israel each year. The programs vary in length from a few months to a full year. Many Masa participants end up immigrating to Israel.

The Jewish Agency, which splits the funding of Masa with the Israeli government, also serves as a trip provider for the program through Experience Israel, its wholly owned subsidiary. Experience Israel also provides trips for Birthright, which brings young Jews from abroad on free, 10-day tours of Israel, and other Israel education programs.

According to the Makor Rishon report, when the partnership between the government and the Jewish Agency was first formed, the Jewish Agency had committed not to hand over more than 20 percent of Masa business to Experience Israel, in order to avoid a possible conflict of interest resulting from the fact that it is both a partner in the program and a trip provider. In fact, however, the Prime Ministers Office discovered that Experience Israel now accounts for more than 20 percent of the total business.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, poses for a photo with members of Masa, a program which provides educational trips for young Jewish adults, in Jerusalem, Sunday, March 30, 2014.
AP

The report also said that a group of 340 participants who were scheduled to arrive in Israel over the next few days to begin internship programs through Masa had been told that their programs had been canceled.

Asked for comment, the Jewish Agency said: It is inconceivable that Jewish young people will be unable to visit and experience life in Israel, some as part of their Aliyah process, due solely to bureaucratic circumstances that are preventing the transfer of the funds. We are working with the government secretariat to find a solution as swiftly as possible.

A spokeswoman for Masa said in response: This year we celebrate 13 years as the leader in long-term career and leadership development experiences in Israel, during which 120,000 young adults from around the world have lived Israel like locals. These deep, authentic encounters with Israel and the Jewish people have produced unparalleled impact for the Jewish world and Israel, and Masa is confident that our founding partners will find a way to solve the issue so that this valuable project continues to thrive and to shape the Jewish future.

The Prime Minister's office did not respond to a request for comment.