PMO Drags Its Feet on Funding Programs for Diaspora High-school Students in Israel

The delay in funding comes at a time when the Israeli government is expanding its funding for the Birthright program, which focuses on university-aged students.

The Prime Ministers Office has yet to deliver on a financial promise made to a coalition of organizations promoting high-school programs for Diaspora youth in Israel.

The delay in funding for the organization, Lapid, comes at a time when the Israeli government is expanding its funding for the Birthright program, which focuses on university-aged students.

Lapid represents a coalition of groups that bring younger, high-school age Diaspora Jews to Israel in an effort to strengthen their Jewish and Zionist commitment before they go to college. In June 2010, representatives of Lapid, which is funded through charitable contributions, received a commitment by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to provide NIS 4 million in funding from the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs.

After several months went by and the funds were not transferred, the Public Diplomacy Ministry advised Lapid that the matter was in the hands of the Prime Minister's Office, ultimately to be dealt with by Netanyahu's political adviser Gabi Kadosh. As of this week, however, the organization has still not received the pledged NIS 4 million.

In January the Israeli government decided to boost its funding for Birthright to NIS 350 million over three years, which is comparable to its prior funding over a ten-year period. The funding is designed to enable Birthright to bring 50,000 participants a year to Israel. Studies on the impact of the Birthright trips have shown that they have been effective in strengthening participants' Jewish identities.

The Prime Minister's Office responded last month: "Following disagreements between the Finance Ministry and the Diaspora Affairs Ministry regarding an allocation to Lapid, professional staff in the Prime Minister's Office is examining the possibility of providing assistance to the organization subject to its compliance with criteria that will be set. The assistance, if it is given, will be provided through the Jewish Agency and the [World] Zionist Organization."

Lapid co-chair Gideon Shavit told Anglo File he was disappointed and frustrated by the government's foot-dragging. "it's very important to bring high school students to Israel and the last 10 years the budget that the government allocates for this mission is basically nothing compared to other programs that are getting at least around $30-40 million a year," he said. "For the last two years we are in discussions, sometimes it's good and sometimes the process is not moving forward. He added about 10,000 high school students come to Israel each year.

A spokesperson from the PMO yesterday commented: "The matter is still in discussion.

(Raphael Ahren contributed to this article. )