Jewish Agency Leaders Vow That Key Israel Program Provider for Diaspora Jews Wont Close

Masa brings about 12,000 young Jews to Israel every year, but is at center of dispute with Israeli government over one of its subsidiaries that organizes trips

Participants on a Masa program to Israel attending a Memorial Day event in Ra'anana, April 2017.

Responding to widespread confusion over the future of a major initiative that targets young Diaspora Jews, Jewish Agency leaders have vowed that Masa – an organization that runs hundreds of programs in Israel – will not close down.

In a letter dispatched late Sunday night to the Jewish Agency board of governors, Chairman Natan Sharansky and Director General Alan Hoffmann acknowledged that a dispute with the Israeli government is holding up registration for Masa programs for the upcoming school year. But they said they would spare no efforts in order to ensure that Masas future is even brighter than its past, and that it will continue [at] full strength.

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

The controversy, which has brought a halt to future registration, concerns the operations of Israel Experience Ltd. – a wholly owned subsidiary of the Jewish Agency that runs many programs for Masa.

In order to avoid the possibility of a conflict of interest, the agreement signed between the government and Jewish Agency stipulated that Israel Experience would be restricted to no more than 20 percent of all Masa business. The controversy is over whether the quota refers to the number of participants or the amount of funding.

The legal adviser in the Prime Ministers Office maintains that the Jewish Agency has filled its quota already and, therefore, cannot sign up any more participants through its Israel Experience subsidiary.

A PMO spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

More than 300 participants in Israel Experience programs were recently told that if they wanted to spend time in Israel, they would have to sign up for programs run by other Masa trip providers.

One possible solution to the crisis currently being discussed is that the Jewish Agency divest itself of Israel Experience, which also provides trips for other programs, including Birthright – the free, 10-day trips to Israel.

The issues under debate are currently under review by the cabinet secretary in full partnership with the Jewish Agency, with the express intention of both parties to reach an agreed-upon solution to the matter at hand and open registration for the coming year, Sharansky and Hoffmann wrote in their letter to the Jewish Agency board of governors.

After Birthright, Masa is the largest provider of trips to Israel for young Jews abroad. Masa runs programs that vary in length from a few months to a full year.

Asked to comment, Masa CEO Liran Avisar Ben Horin said: Given the impact of Masa on Israeli society and the Israeli economy, as well as on the Jewish people at large, I cannot envision a scenario in which an agreement is not reached.

Masa will not close down, she added.