Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Congress Kills Special Grant for Teachers College in Israel

October 17, 1989
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

For the second time in two years, a U.S. Jewish group has failed to obtain federal funds for its educational facilities abroad, despite enlisting significant support from members of Congress.

The two rejections appear to have set a limit on how far Jewish institutions can go in trying to secure special grants from Congress.

In both cases, the grants were ultimately rejected by Congress after some lawmakers felt their colleagues had unfairly intervened in the government’s grant review process.

In late 1987, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) introduced an amendment to a $600 billion spending bill to give $8 million in refugee funds to Ozar Hatorah to build schools for North African Jews in France.

Both houses of Congress approved the grant, but opposition generated by members of Congress, newspaper editorials and major U.S. Jewish groups led Inouye to rescind the grant in early 1988. The money was “earmarked” from the U.S. refugee budget, which traditionally is not spent in Western countries such as France.

The latest controversy surrounds a $1.5 million grant to build dormitories at the Sha’alvim Teachers College in Ayalon, Israel.

Although a Sha’alvim proposal for such a grant was rejected by State Department officials earlier this year, Sen. Robert Kasten (R-Wis.), Rep. Dante Fascell (D-Fla.) and others intervened and successfully urged the Agency for International Development to fund it.

But on Sept. 14, Reps. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) and David Obey (D-Wis.) effectively ordered AID’s acting administrator, Mark Edelman, to kill the grant.


Hamilton told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the original evaluation by AID staffers was “not favorable,” as were the evaluations by external AID grant reviewers.

He added that Obey and he singled out this grant because of the way it was obtained, by congressional and other pressures on AID, despite the negative evaluations.

Hamilton, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East, and Obey, who heads the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing foreign aid, generally support the American Schools and Hospitals Abroad program, from which the grants would have been funded.

But in this case, they agreed with critics who charged that the $35 million program is a “pork barrel” from which groups with the greatest influence in Washington receive funding.

Critics included many major Jewish groups that oppose government aid to religious groups and who consider the program an “intellectual embarrassment.”

In their letter to AID, Hamilton and Obey said Sha’alvim does not meet the “criteria or purposes” of the ASHA program. ASHA grants are supposed to be awarded competitively to high schools, colleges and teaching hospitals abroad sponsored by private U.S. groups, and be used in ways that “reflect American ideas and practice.”

Hamilton said in the interview that he was concerned that some of the ASHA grants may be going to institutions that violate ASHA guidelines that prohibit grants from being used to train persons for religious pursuits or to construct facilities intended for worship or religious instruction.

Religious institutions, said Hamilton, are not “best suited” for ASHA. He said the program’s original purpose was to support centers of excellence in medicine and related fields.


A significant portion of the ASHA program is directed toward institutions in the Middle East, and particularly Israel. “I want to get away from that perception” of the program, he said.

In its ASHA application, Sha’alvim stated that its main purpose is “to develop a corps of male scholars, educators and teachers who are encouraged to pursue their careers in development towns and border settlements.”

Rabbi Philip Singer, chairman of American Friends of Sha’alvim Educational Center, criticized Hamilton and Obey for quashing his group’s grant, saying they “don’t know what they’re talking about.”

He said the funds would be used to construct dormitories, not to train rabbis or teachers. In the 1986 fiscal year, Sha’alvim received $400,000 from ASHA to construct dormitories.

Hamilton and Obey, to stress their displeasure with the Sha’alvim grant, on Sept. 14 released their July “hold” on two other ASHA grants for Jewish institutions in Israel for the 1989 fiscal year.

They include $1.5 million to build dormitories at the Machon Alte Institute, operated by the Lubavitch movement in Safed, and $500,000 to build classrooms at the Or Hachayim Girls College in Bnei Brak.

Sha’alvim, unlike the other two, was named in a suit filed last year by the American Civil Liberties Union alleging that many ASHA grants violate the constitutional separation between church and state.

Jewish groups have yet to sign on to the suit, although they are considering filing friend-of-the-court briefs when the suit reaches an advanced stage.

Hamilton said his action “was necessary to get people’s attention to this program. We could have blocked everything, but that does not seem to be the right thing to do.”

U.S. Jewish groups that saw their ASHA grants cleared by Hamilton and Obey in early August, as well as by their Senate counterparts, were the Israel Arts and Science Academy, which received $1.5 million to construct dormitories, and the Feinberg Graduate School of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, which received $1 million to buy scientific equipment.

In addition, $1.5 million was cleared for the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, and $900,000 for the Sanz Medical Center in Netanya.

Recommended from JTA