Anger as Orthodox get most of diaspora fund


Israel has made an unprecedented £17 million cash contribution to Jewish life on university campuses around the world - but it is under fire for investing a large part of the money through Orthodox organisations.

The money has been divided between three organisations, and two of them are Orthodox.

Chabad on Campus International is the university arm of the Chasidic movement Chabad-Lubavitch, and Olami supports several smaller Orthodox groups. The other recipient is the broad-based Hillel International.

The funding is the first tranche of a new Israeli government funding programme to strengthen diaspora-Israel ties, and is being given on the understanding that diaspora donors will provide a further £34m.

Hiddush, an Israeli organisation that monitors government spending in the religious sector, was furious about the move. It was a "totally wrong and a political decision", said Hiddush vice-president Shahar Ilan .

The funding is provided by the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, which is controlled by the right-wing Orthodox party Jewish Home and headed by party leader Naftali Bennett.

"It seems he's interested in spreading Orthodox thoughts more than in the mission itself," said Mr Ilan.

He added that the decision could actually work against the new diaspora-Israel programme by causing upset in communities where Orthodoxy is not dominant, especially America. "If there isn't a rethink by Bennett it will cause damage to our relationship with the diaspora," he said.

Amy Holtz, the CEO of the company set up to administer the fund, Mosaic United, said she was "certain that we can engage many more college students across the diaspora in Jewish life, and build a stronger Jewish future." Mr Bennett called the allocation an "historic moment, one that marks a new stage in Israel-diaspora relations."

Asked to respond to the criticism, a Diaspora Affairs Ministry spokesperson said: "Mosaic United's professional staff conducted a thorough process, after which they selected the groups leading Jewish educational efforts on hundreds of campuses around the world. All the activity is carried out in accordance with every legal requirement, with all relevant parties involved."

The ministry pointed out that Mosaic United's steering committee was diverse, and stressed that the grants to the three campus organisations were only part of the programme. "The launch of the campus pillar is an important step, but it is only the first step in a long journey," the spokesperson said.

Eric D Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel International, said he was proud to be working with Mosaic United "as they seek to engage more Jewish students in deeper ways."

But criticism of the funding allocation continued among Israeli politicians. Elazar Stern, Knesset member with the Yesh Atid party, was disappointed with the funding decision and said: "When you want to create identity among diaspora Jews you have to present much more than one way to be Jewish."

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