Should Israelis Subsidize American Jewry?

Let's rethink our budgetary agreements on programs for American Jewry.

Ronn Torossian

OpEds Ronn Torossian
Ronn Torossian

Recently at the board meeting of a Jewish-American non-profit organization - of which I am a member -  I was the sole dissenter in a vote about working to secure funds from the Israeli government.

Everyone on the board knows we need to raise funds – and because of the work we do, we could receive funding from The Jewish Agency and Foreign Ministry – but is it fair that Israeli tax payers subsidize the education of American Jews?

It strikes me as “un-Zionist” that Israelis should pay for the education of American Jews. While the Jewish state has an interest in strengthening ties to Israel, perhaps private initiatives are more appropriate sources of funding rather than Israeli taxpayer dollars.

Projects like Masa Israel take thousands of Jewish youth from over 50 countries to Israel on semester- and year-long programs in Israel and are very important.

But should the already highly-taxed Israeli pay for it? Half of Masa Israel's funding comes from the Government of Israel and the other half comes from the Jewish Agency for Israel.

One of the reasons incoming MK Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party,  had such stunning success in the recent elections is that prices are simply through the roof in Israel and he promised to do something about it..

Outgoing LIkud Minister Moshe Kahlon is a hero in large part because of his success in driving down telecom and mobile phone pricing.

Can there be any doubt that perhaps some of the Israeli funds that match Jewish Agency funding could be re-directed to be spent on important Israeli domestic issues?

I live in Lincoln Center on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and spent last week in Tel Aviv. Dinner, coffee and entertaining was generally more expensive in Tel Aviv than in Manhattan – so should the small nation of Israel really subsidize American Jewry?

On the other hand, as someone who makes a living as CEO of a PR firm, the just announced “Seeing is Believing” 50 Million Shekel Foreign Ministry initiative to bring a few thousand North American, non- Jewish campus influentials to Israel makes a lot of sense. It is a program meant to counter the awful propaganda which Israel faces on a day-to-day basis.

American Jewish organizations fail miserably at this task, and the project proposed by Foreign Ministry Director-General  for Public Diplomacy, Gideon Meir, can make a huge difference if influential figures on campus see things with their own eyes.

As Natan Sharansky of the Jewish Agency says, the 3Ds – the demonization, double standard and delegitimization of Israel –need to be countered with 3Es: education, engagement and exposure -  according to Meir.

There is no clear answer, but in a “start-up” Jewish state, priorities must always be re-examined.

Ronn Torossian is a philanthropist, author and entrepreneur.