Kicking the Ball Between the Government and the Jewish Agency; A Losing Game

by Safra Turner-Granot

The Student Authority is crippled in its ability to provide student olim with the scholarships promised to them early in the academic year. There are at least 35 students, likely many more, who have been financially cut off by the Student Authority due to the severance of Jewish Agency funding and transfer of responsibility onto the government.

The football match is now in full swing between the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government. The ball has been kicked back and forth a few times already and with any luck, we are reaching the homestretch.

The problem is that ball is the Student Authority, and student olim are literally being kicked around.

Over the last 6 weeks, the real victims of the severance of funding by the Jewish Agency have begun to materialize. The Jewish Agency had both announced and cut off its funding of the Student Authority, and the government took full responsibility for the Student Authority and the approximately 6500 student olim under its auspices.

As a direct result of this transition, Student Authority summer funding for all students currently studying in the 2011-12 academic year has been revoked. There are many international programs for higher education that run consecutively for 10 months, and it is not an option for these students to stop studying during the summer months. The Student Authority has cut the funding for the final semester for all of these international programs.

Scholarships already promised to students and upon which they are dependent, currently will not be allocated.

At first, the ball was in the hands of the government, specifically the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Absorption. From what I was informed, emergency government funds are available to be released for these students, but the Ministry of Finance has yet to vote in favor of the release of these monies.

Then the ministry passed the ball to the Jewish Agency, with the charge that the Agency never completed transferring pledged funds for the 2011-12 academic year. The Ministry of Absorption, as it was explained, was unable to release funds, as they simply were not there to be released.

The Agency held on to the ball for a while and spent over a month ignoring repeated attempts of communication with JAFI Chairman Natan Sharansky’s office by students and the newly forming lobby, Olim for Improving Israel. Yesterday, a press release was finally delivered. They passed the ball BACK to the Ministry of Absorption, made no concrete promises and washed their hands of the matter. In the statement the Agency said,

The current difficulties are the result of a technicality, which is presently in the process of being resolved by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and the Ministry of Finance. We expect the issue to be settled within the coming days and the students to receive their scholarship funds in the near future.

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Unfortunately, we already know about this technicality; the government does as well, as it has since day one; yet the government still places the blame squarely on the Jewish Agency, the Agency still places the blame squarely on the Israeli government, and the students who are desperate to receive that which was promised to them, still have nowhere to turn.

The Agency has washed its hands of the crisis, even though Sharansky has “made it very clear, from the very beginning, that not one student will be damaged” by the Agency cut, and at least 35 students of whom we are currently aware of, have been severely hurt.

From the Student Authority, olim students have received nothing but excuses, “The government is responsible and due to the economic crisis, there are no more donations from America;” and “this will be settled in next year’s budget”.

Wherever these students turn, they are simply given excuses and finger pointing. As of yet, no one has stepped up to actually solve the problem.

There is no argument against the Jewish Agency pulling its funding from long term absorption programs and shifting its vision towards Jewish identity and Peoplehood. There is also no argument that the ball is now in the hands of the Ministry of Absorption and the Ministry of Finance.

The argument is that this has not been a clean-cut process. Many student olim have been hurt and are now in dire financial straits due to the Agency cutting off its funding to the Student Authority. The Agency owes it to those students to ensure a happy ending to this totally unnecessary crisis.

According to the press release by the Agency, they are working with the government to ensure that the issue is settled in the next few days. For the students’ sakes, let us hope that these are words we can depend on.

The money is there. It should not even be a question of whether to release the funds, but how quickly these funds be released. This debacle, if not for the fact that many lives are physically affected by this, would be an amusing depiction of the stereotypical bureaucratic obstacles created and faced here in Israel by olim. There is simply no logical reason that this crisis has not yet been solved, or that it was even created in the first place.

Safra Turner-Granot is the founder of Olim for Improving Israel, a lobby created to protect and enhance the rights of olim-by-choice in Israel. She has been involved in the Jewish world both professionally and voluntarily since youth and has dedicated her life to the Jewish People and Israel. Safra is married and mother to one son.