Young British Jews have slammed a decision by the Jewish Agency to stop funding a five-month Israel experience programme after it was criticised by “extreme right-wing group” Ad Kan.
The decision to cut funding to Achvat Amim, one of four programmes offered by Hashomer Hatzair, was made by Masa Israel, which was set up in 2004 to bring Diaspora Jews on extended stays in Israel.
Masa Israel describes itself as “the leader in immersive international experiences in Israel for young people aged 18-30” and is a joint project between the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and the Jewish Agency.
To its champions, Achvat is “an educational programme that gives a space for more nuanced discussion about the conflict while learning, teaching, protesting and building life-long relationships with Palestinians, Israelis and other internationals”.
However, in a report picked up by Israel’s Channel 2, Ad Kan alleged that Achvat participants provoked Israeli soldiers who came to dismantle the Sumud Freedom Camp, built over the former Palestinian village of Sarura.
Ad Kan is a right-wing organisation known for targeting human rights campaigners and anti-occupation activists. It rose to prominence last year after reports emerged that it had sent moles to infiltrate left-wing groups. and for British participants on this year’s Achvat Amim, the Ad Kan report was “spurious” and “deeply faulty”.
Oxford undergraduate Nina Morris-Evans, who has just returned from the programme, said: “Ad Kan is trying to paint Achvat Amim as beyond the bounds of legitimate engagement and opinion on Israel and the conflict by presenting false assertions and disinformation about the program’s activities.”
She added: “The report is an attempt to push the Ad Kan agenda, which seeks to delegitimise any criticism of the occupation and preclude Jews from around the world from making meaningful contributions to creating a more peaceful and just society.”
Ad Kan is secretive about its funding, but Israeli news site Walla recently revealed that one of its donors was Samaria Settlers’ Committee, which pays for YouTube adverts attacking the foreign funding of left-wing non-governmental organisations, replete with Nazi-era anti-Semitic caricatures.
Anna Roiser, a British lawyer who recently returned from a career break in Jerusalem, was equally concerned that the move seemed to reflect a growing trend in Israeli society to shut down any criticism of the occupation.
“Whilst not everyone will agree with Achvat’s ethos, we should all agree that democracies encourage a diversity of views and healthy level of debate,” she said.
“Achvat’s participants are intelligent and enthusiastic young Jews who, without the programme, may not find a way to engage with Israel at all.”
Morris-Evans said Masa Israel was “making a bold statement by siding with this infamous organisation known for targeting human rights organisations” and said she felt the whole experience had made it much more difficult to engage with Israel.
“I am acutely aware that as a proud and practicing Jew, I already struggle enormously to reconcile that with a form of Zionism that works for me. This funding retraction will only further that difficulty, and create more damage while sending a clear message that left-wing Jews are not welcome in Israel.”