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Monday, January 2, 2012
Jewish Agency denies plans to ax funding for immigrant students promised full scholarships

Jewish Agency statement

My statement on the blatantly false Ha'aretz story that claims olim students
will lose their scholarships: We are shocked at the falsehoods published in
this story. We were not given sufficient opportunity to respond before the
article went to print. Our key message: No student will be hurt, no funds
will be lost to the Student Authority. The Jewish Agency is indeed pulling
out of funding the Absorption Ministry's Student Authority, because it is
the right and smart thing to do. But we have secured in recent weeks
iron-clad guarantees from several government sources that government
agencies will step in and make up the difference. It is altogether
appropriate that the government, rather than donors, take responsibility for
long-term absorption and higher education of olim. The government agrees
with us on this point. We promise now, as we promised in every meeting with
the government: We will not pull out until the government steps in. Even
after making this promise, the government has agreed to step in, because it
recognizes its responsibility for the long-term success of olim in Israel.
We do not want to speculate on the motivations behind the publication of
such an egregious misrepresentation of the facts.

Haviv Rettig Gur
Director of Communications
Jewish Agency for Israel
Email: havivg@jafi.org, haviv@yahoo.com
Cell: +972-(0)50-205-2627=


Jewish Agency plans to ax funding for immigrant students

Olim students may stop receiving financial aid at end of current academic
year, following decision to shift priorities away from absorption and toward
strengthening Jewish identity of Jews living abroad.
By Revital Blumenfeld Haaretz Published 00:46 02.01.12

Thousands of immigrants could be forced to drop out of school if the Jewish
Agency moves forward with a plan to end scholarship funding at the end of
the current academic year.

Senior agency officials say the Jewish Agency plans to stop transferring
funds to the Immigrant Student Authority toward the end of the year, a
consequence of internal reorganization at the agency. About a year and a
half ago, the agency decided to shift its priorities - and budgets - away
from absorbing Jews in Israel, and toward strengthening Jewish identity
among Jews living abroad.

The Jewish Agency has offered full scholarships to immigrants since 1968, as
well as other support programs such as tutoring, workshops and psychological
counseling. Some 6,000 to 7,000 students annually have received aid from the
Jewish Agency in recent years. During the past year alone, 6,300 immigrants
from Asia and Africa received full scholarships through the administration.

Currently, some 80% of the students supported by the Immigrant Student
Administration - a joint project between the agency and the Immigrant
Absorption Ministry - are living in Israel without their families after
having come here with the promise of full scholarships.

Those caught in the middle of their degree programs when the scholarships
end would have to come up with the rest of the tuition themselves, or be
forced to drop out of school.

The agency has been cutting funding for immigrant students for several
years. At one point the annual budget had been around NIS 35 million; in
recent years it fell to NIS 16 million, with the balance covered by the
Immigrant Absorption Ministry.

The situation is so dire, in fact, that one official at the Immigrant
Absorption Ministry said the plan to discontinue scholarships has more to do
with money than with the agency's recent reform.

"It has nothing to do with the reform in the organization, but is a result
of serious budget limitations," the ministry official said. "The Jewish
Agency is losing its assets, contributions are down and the cuts are
starting to be massive."

"For a few years they've wanted to get out of dealing with students, and
were just trying to figure out how," the official added. "This was long
before the change that [Jewish Agency chairman Natan] Sharansky made. That's
just an excuse."

Haaretz has learned that other cuts by the agency are also in the offing,
including cuts that could lead to the closing of absorption centers in
Ashdod, Be'er Sheva and Jerusalem. The Jewish Agency is also planning to
implement cuts that would dry up funding for immigrant organizations such as
the Association for Americans and Canadians in Israel.

The agency denied that it planned to close absorption centers, but confirmed
there would be "a cut in the Jewish Agency's outlay for operating absorption
centers, because of the changing needs of the new immigrants over the years,
who are not immigrants from countries of distress but immigrants with means
from Western countries."

The agency added that it "isn't pulling out of its absorption programs," but
believes "there is room to discuss a clearer and more logical division of
tasks between the agency and the government on this issue."

According to Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, "We've been
speaking to Sharansky about what we could take on ourselves, but the Student
Administration, the ulpanim [Hebrew schools] and the absorption centers
represent NIS 100 million and we cannot handle that."

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