Knesset Committee Discusses Neglect of HS Programs in Israel

The Knesset’s Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee met on Wednesday to discuss programs for Diaspora Jewish youth in Israel – specifically, Taglit-Birthright Israel, MASA and LAPID. In attendance were representatives of the Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Finance, Jewish Agency, WZO (World Zionist Org), Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, Ministry of Absorption and Immigration, Ministry of Education, Lapid Coalition, MASA, Taglit-Birthright, AACI (Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel), Nefesh B’Nefesh, Council of Immigrant Associations in Israel and others.

High on the agenda – funding (or specifically lack of) for Lapid, and why children who go on Lapid are denied eligibility to participate on Taglit. There was strong consensus that the high school programs have been neglected and more attention needs to be given to the need to support them in the future.

Delegitimization of Israel on college campuses was also discussed, and the fact that Lapid helps prepare participants with Israel advocacy skills BEFORE they enter college.

Committee chair MK Danny Danon decreed that the Government must submit a report within 30 days on Why Lapid has not been / is not being funded.

Following is the committee’s official statement on Wednesday’s session:

We are all familiar with Taglit and MASA, the programs for Jewish students from abroad that bring tens of thousand to Israel each year to tour and study. The State invests millions of dollars in those programs, but it seems that not a single shekel is invested in the more significant age group – high-school students. The Lapid program for this age group does not receive any Government budget. MK Danny Danon, Chair of the Immigration, Absorption & Diaspora Affairs Committee, who held a Committee meeting today (Wednesday) on this subject aid that “It is vital to invest in this age group, in the age when the personality is formed, and so influence the rest of these youngsters’ lives. Former Prime Ministers Sharon, Olmert and Netanyahu understood the importance of this issue, and allocated budgets to reinforce ties with Jewish students, but now we must also invest no less in high-school students from the Diaspora.

At the meeting, Flora Koch-Davidovich, of the Knesset Research and Information Centre, reported that during 2011 that some 50,000 participants came to Israel through the three projects Taglit, Masa and Lapid. Government participation in the Taglit budget was raised to 88 million NIS in 2011 and to 120 million NIS for 2012. In 2012, the expected budget for Taglit is 142 million NIS. During 2011, some 32,500 participated in Taglit in 2011 and in 2012 the number of expected participants is 42,000.

Participants in Lapid spend between 3-6 weeks in Israel; Taglit participants stay here for 10 days, while Masa participants come for a period of one semester to one academic year. But while participation in the Taglit project is fully subsidized by the State, participants in Masa and Lapid pay thousands of dollars. 75% of the Taglit and Masa participants come from North America and the rest from the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, from Latin America and Western Europe. The number of those who immigrate to Israel from all the youngsters in the Lapid and Masa programs is 15%-20%.

Yoni Heilman, Director of Taglit, stressed that 51% of the program’s graduates make sure they marry Jews, and some 17 thousand have already made Aliyah. “The idea of Taglit,” he said, “is to reach those most distant [from Israel], those who never even thought of visiting Israel during their teens. 40% of them are Reform, while another 40% define themselves as “just Jewish”. Those eligible for Taglit are children who have at least one Jewish parent, and the organizations check, through interviews, whether the applicants are indeed Jewish”