Jewish Agency nixes Birthright funding cut


JERUSALEM (JTA) –The Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel nixed a plan by its budget committee to cut its allocation to Birthright Israel by $1 million.

The agency, which concluded its board meetings in Jerusalem on Thursday night, passed $45 million in cuts to its core budget for 2009. It made $40.1 million in actual cuts in spending, and passed a resolution to ask the government of Israel for additional funding.

The board of governors overwhelmingly passed the cuts, including $6.2 million from its aliyah department, $4.4 million from its education department and $2 million from its Israel department. In addition, the agency will make a $7.5 million cut in infrastructure and overhead that will most likely result in layoffs, a $2.8 million cut to the World Zionist Organization, and a $1.2 million cut to absorption centers for non-Ethiopian immigrants.

The budget committee had also suggested a $1 million cut to Birthright, the program that takes Diaspora Jews between the ages of 18-26 on free 10-day trips to Israel. But the proposal was met with fierce opposition, particularly from board members who are professional heads of Jewish federations, and was ultimately shot down.

"Birthright is one complicated, extraordinary, homerun program. It is a partnership with philanthropists, the Jewish Agency, the government and the federations. It is a whole network, and this cut may just set off difficulties that are beyond that,” the executive vice president and CEO of the UJA-Federation of New York, John Ruskay, told JTA after voicing a similar opinion during the meeting. He added that if the Agency would have gone through with cutting its contribution to Birthright, it “could erode [the Jewish Agency’s] perception among donors broadly.”

The president of the New York federation, John Shapiro, said that making the Birthright cut would have been the wrong course of action to take without consulting the agency’s other partners in Birthright.  “This is not the kind of decision you make unilaterally," he said.

Birthright has already said that it will cut its budget by $35 million for next year.

Instead of cutting the Birthright budget, the Jewish Agency resolved to ask for an additional $1 million from the Israeli government.

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