Masa activists should pay their own way

Why do tax shekels have to pay for hostility Israel already receives for free? Photo: Wikimedia

JERUSALEM, May 21, 2013 — Last week, when thousands of Israelis protested against the 2013-2014 state budget, all they could do was shout out the usual socialist hokum about redistributing the wealth of the rich.  In this respect, they are completely clueless. But they are right about one thing: the ever-increasing tax burden on the middle class is unfair and curbs economic growth.

One of many complaints that could be heard from the disgruntled demonstrators — huge numbers of whom voted for Finance Minister Yair Lapid in the first place – is the amount of money the government spends to maintain the settlements.

Here’s some news for fellow citizens whose financial condition will never improve if they keep blaming the wrong people and policies for their plight: Aside from the gargantuan monopolies in Israel, which are controlled just as much by the labor unions as they are by the “tycoons,” public waste needs curtailing. Examples of outrageous expenditures abound, which make Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for a double bed on his flight to China pale in comparison.

Take the Masa Israel Journey program, for instance. Established in 2004 through the approval of then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, Masa (which means “journey” in Hebrew) is aimed at connecting young Diaspora Jews with Israel. Similar in that sense to Taglit-birthright, a program that preceded it by several years, Masa offers free trips, grants and scholarships to participants who identify themselves as Jewish. The idea behind both is that Jews who have an “Israel experience” are more likely to feel tied to their roots. Another thing the two programs have in common is funding from the Israeli government. But, while Taglit-birthright subsists mainly on private donations, receiving only a small portion from the Israeli government, Masa gets half of its tens of millions of dollars annually from the Israeli government and the other half from the Jewish Agency.

If members of the Israeli middle class had been paying attention to this year’s closing ceremony of Masa on Monday afternoon at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, they would have gained insight into where good chunks of their hard-earned, heavily taxed shekels have been so generously invested.

During the address of keynote speaker Economy and Commerce Minister Naftali Bennett, thirty Masa participants began to shout, “Diaspora Jews say ‘end the occupation,’ Diaspora Jews say ‘no to annexation.’” Meanwhile, they and others distributed flyers to the audience, accusing Bennett of opposing a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The group responsible for turning the party into an anti-Israeli government political rally calls itself “All That’s Left: Anti-Occupation Collective.” Joining forces with them were members of the Hashomer Hatzair World Movement.

According to a blog post about the event, written by prominent “All That’s Left” member Joshua Leifer in the Times of Israel, “Outside, hundreds of MASA participants flowed out of the auditorium and engaged in conversations with the demonstrators. The dialogue following the action led to frank and open discussions that aren’t being held enough in Diaspora Jewish communities. The action was a success because the young Jewish activists were able to disrupt Bennett’s speech and engage with MASA participants in critical discussion… The ideology that motivates Bennett’s political party, the Jewish Home, is a dangerous merger of racism, militarism and colonialism… The young Jews who interrupted Bennett’s speech demonstrated that his policy proposals and political positions fundamentally contradict Diaspora Jews’ belief in equality, democracy and a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The normalization of Bennett’s extremist discourse in the context of a MASA event was so deeply problematic that the young MASA participants considered it unacceptable…”

Oh, dear. The government was so busy financing their Israel experience that it failed to make its elected leaders acceptable to them.

There is nothing new about Jews criticizing Israel. Nor is it novel for the Left to misrepresent the political positions of those to the right of them. But why do tax shekels have to pay for something Israelis already receive, in abundance at home and abroad, for free?

This is the kind of question that should be heard at social protests in Tel Aviv and plastered on posters of Netanyahu and Lapid in Jerusalem. But, of course, it never will be.


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Ruthie Blum

 Ruthie Blum is a pull-no-punches, conservative, Israeli-American columnist for Israel Hayom,  and the author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’”

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