Israeli government deal ties Birthright funding to subsidies for ultra-Orthodox yeshivas

Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi parties agree to free up $51.3 million for Birthright and Masa in exchange for restoring yeshivas' funds for foreign students, if they adopt Zionist programming.

Haaretz, Israel/December 16, 2013

By Zvi Zrahiya

A compromise between two governing parties on Monday saved 180 million shekels ($51.3 million) in public funding for the Taglit-Birthright and Masa Israel Journey organizations. The agreement between centrist Yesh Atid and religious Zionist Habayit Hayehudi hinged on protecting subsidies for foreign students who come to study at ultra-Orthodox yeshivas.

Knesset Finance Committee chair MK Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi) held up the funds for educational and professional programs in Israel to protest the planned 48-million-shekel budget cut ($13.7 million) to yeshivas.

The agreement stipulates a wide net of changes to programming at publicly-funded ultra-Orthodox yeshivas that receive students from abroad. They will be required to add Zionist activities to the curriculum for foreign students, taking place once a month from the second to 11th month of their studies.

Birthright and Masa have a long track record of bringing young Diaspora Jews on Zionist-centered trips to Israel. Birthright sponsors free ten-day heritage trips to Israel jam-packed with recreational and educational activities. Masa Journey Israel is an umbrella organization for gap-year, study abroad and post-graduate programs for young Jewish adults in Israel.

With the renewed funding the yeshivas will be expected to adopt Zionist activities such as five days of volunteering and a day of programming about the Israeli military. As part of the day they will visit an ultra-Orthodox military unit and attend a lecture on the importance of serving in the Israel Defense Forces.

There will also be six tours to national heritage monuments and government institutions, including mandatory visits to Holocaust remembrance museum Yad Vashem, the Knesset and the High Court of Justice. The ultra-Orthodox students will also go on an overnight trip out to nature. Finally, the funding requires at least six hours of instruction on the various aspects of Israeli society, which will be taught by external parties.

Yeshivas will receive funding only if they encourage immigration to Israel and can show that at least ten percent of their graduates moved to Israel in three or more of the last nine years. More specific criteria will be up to the Education Ministry to formulate.

Due to still ongoing storm-related disruptions in Jerusalem, the vote has been postponed to Tuesday.

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