Foreign Ministry says it has ‘zero budget’ for combating antisemitism abroad

‘There has not been any substantial funding for the last couple of weeks,’ diplomat confirms to Times of Israel

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel demonstrators rally near Columbia University in New York on November 15, 2023. (Bryan R. Smith / AFP)
Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel demonstrators rally near Columbia University in New York on November 15, 2023. (Bryan R. Smith / AFP)

Despite the recent surge in attacks and harassment against Diaspora Jews, Israel’s diplomatic service has no money to combat antisemitism abroad, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s Department for Combating Antisemitism claimed on Wednesday.

“Until now, the ministry has invested hundreds of thousands of shekels in the fight to prevent antisemitism around the world,” but “today we are operating in a situation of zero budget and we cannot assist diplomats around the world in their activities against antisemitism,” Ruth Cohen-Dar, the director of the ministry’s Department for Combating Antisemitism, testified before the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs.

Since 2015, Netanyahu has overseen a significant shrinking of the Foreign Ministry’s budget, leading to repeated wage disputes — including one in 2019 during which Israeli embassies and consulates around the world shut down in protest after the treasury reportedly backtracked on previous agreements and said it would force the envoys to pay back thousands of dollars that they had been reimbursed for expenses.

Antisemitic incidents have risen precipitously across Europe and the United States since October 7, when thousands of terrorists burst through the Gaza border fence, massacring some 1,200 people, abducting over 240 and prompting a wide-ranging Israeli ground operation to dismantle the Hamas regime in Gaza.

A senior Israeli diplomat told The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity that Cohen-Dar was right.

“There has not been any substantial funding for the last couple of weeks and it’s not clear when there will be funding. This hinders our diplomatic activities very much and also those that have to do with fighting antisemitism.”

Members of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee during a hearing on worldwide antisemitism on January 3, 2024. (Dani Shem-Tov/Knesset)

A second diplomat concurred, declaring that there were “a lot of activities that we could do” if money were available — such as creating classroom curricula in collaboration with education ministries abroad, organizing conferences, and hiring dedicated embassy staffers to deal with the issue.

“If I want to do a conference, I don’t have a budget to rent a hall. This is ridiculous. We’re not talking about millions,” the diplomat said.

And while Diaspora Affairs Ministry Deputy Director General Amit Efrati told the committee that his department had allocated NIS 8 million ($2.2 million) for protecting Jewish institutions around the world along with programs in Jewish schools, the diplomat said that this was not enough.

“You have to have someone on the ground” who can deal with the unique manifestation of antisemitism in each country and can cultivate “influential contacts with the local government and even lobby for laws” against antisemitism, they said.

Illustrative: A German police officer stands guard in front of a synagogue to secure the building in Frankfurt, Germany, November 8, 2023. (Michael Probst/AP)

Still, a ministry source told The Times of Israel that it was misleading to say that there is no budget for combating antisemitism, explaining that the foreign service had yet to receive its overall 2024 budget and that there was no special budget category for dealing with the issue, which is subsumed under broader allocations for “public diplomacy.”

According to a report presented at the hearing by the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, antisemitic incidents rose by 211 percent in Toronto and 162% in London since the outbreak of the current war.

Last month, the Anti-Defamation League reported that it had recorded 2,031 incidents in the US between October 7 and December 7, the highest-ever two-month number since it began tracking in 1979. In the UK, the Community Security Trust said that, as of mid-December, it had “recorded at least 2,093 antisemitic incidents,” which it said was “more antisemitic incidents than the total reported throughout the entire year prior to Hamas’s attack.”

“There has to be an organized action plan for combating antisemitism around the world,” MK Moshe Roth (United Torah Judaism), an American immigrant, demanded during the hearing.

Israel “should invest resources in filing lawsuits against organizations and institutions that are involved in the dissemination of antisemitism,” he said, arguing that Haredi Jews, “who are identified as Jews in the most distinct way, suffer from global antisemitism more than any other demographic.”

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