Interns ply research for Knesset members

JERUSALEM — One leader of a Jerusalem think tank is hoping Israel will one day be able to politely decline the $3 billion a year in U.S. foreign aid.

Zev Golan, associate director of the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies (IASPS), says he dreams of telling the United States, "Thank you for your offer, but we don't want aid. We want to earn what we make."

Wonders Golan, "Why should a whole country be on the dole?"

The Philadelphia native and his think tank have been working for eight years to move Israel toward a free-market economy, in hopes of eventually freeing the Jewish state from foreign aid. For the second year now, a group of young Israelis will be on the institute's frontlines in this battle — in the Knesset itself, serving as interns.

Unlike members of Congress, who are surrounded by aides, Knesset members typically share a single all-purpose office assistant. These assistants, often burdened with secretarial work, have little time for research. Last year, five interns were placed with Knesset members to help them research and address issues of economic reform. This year, nine interns will be placed with members of the Labor, Likud, Tsomet and Meretz parties.

The project is made possible by the S.F.-based Koret Foundation, which has donated $605,000 to the institute since 1992. The rest of IASPS' annual $1.4 million budget is provided mainly by private East Coast-based philanthropists.

"We take the brightest postgraduates in the country, train them again in economics and research and put them in the Knesset to do hands-on research," says Golan.

Ruth Avidar, 27, returns to the program this term after working last year with Knesset member Gidon Sagi on issues of tax reduction and privatization. As an intern, she also had the opportunity to spend a month in Washington, D.C., meeting with Congressional aides, government officials and Jewish community leaders.

Avidar remembers her first day at the Knesset.

"I said, `Wow, this is the real thing. Here, everything is made.' I ate in the same room with the Knesset members," she recalls.

Avidar isn't sure with whom she'll be working this year, but hopes to work in the area of communications regulations.

For Uri Resnick, 24, working in the Knesset will be a new experience. The Canadian political science major — and the only non-Israeli intern — says he's anxiously awaiting the Knesset's next scheduled regular session in November, after the High Holy Days.

"It's exciting to get into the real thing," says Resnick, who after the program will finish a master's degree in economics.