A board meeting of a non-profit organization I am on this week had a spirited debate recently – do we accept funding from the Jewish Agency? Unbeknownst to a few of us, the professional leadership of the organization had succeeded in securing funding from the Israeli government for sending our young members to visit Israel, and for various educational programs we host in America.
Personally, I was shocked – Israeli taxpayers in the Jewish state should pay for American Jewish kids to visit Israel? Israeli taxpayers should pay for New York Jews to learn about Judaism? Seems to me backwards – and it sparked an animated debate amongst our organization. (I lost the fight – we are accepting the funding – I felt we should work harder at raising funds, and as we give money to Israel, remain unsure why we are taking from them).
That debate interesting raised its head again this week – When one wonders how much should Israeli taxpayers bear the burden of the Jewish worldwide challenges. It raised its head in a major crisis for the Jewish people – As the horrific killings in France nearly led to a Public Relations crisis for the State of Israel when the victims’ families decided to have them buried in the State of Israel. Initial headlines told us that the National Insurance Institute opposed funding the burial of the non-Israeli victim (i.e. why should Israeli taxpayers pay).
Fortunately, it seems someone listened to a crisis PR agency (or media presence) and an exception was made. When an Israeli citizen dies, he/she is entitled to free burial in Israel, but non-Israelis have to pay to be buried. As these French victims were considered victims of terror – killed because they were Jewish, the State made an exception – but could one imagine the media outcry if the State didn’t pay for these high-profile victims? An exception was made in this case, but it’s an interesting general distinction which the government makes – if you are dead and want to be buried, you pay, but if you are alive, the government (taxpayers) of Israel will pay for you to visit.
In 2011, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that the Government of Israel approved $100 million in funding for Taglit-Birthright Israel over the next three years – and over the past 10 years the government has already given $100 million to Birthright Israel. One wonders if the Israeli public should be paying for Diaspora Jews to visit the Jewish state – Are the tax payers of Ashdod, Haifa, and Petach Tikva responsible for Jewish youth in Scarsdale, Chevy Chase and Tucson?
Its an interesting discussion – Not one I have clear answers for, but clearly interesting food for thought.