Behind the Headlines American Jews’ Commitment to Israel Stronger Than Many Israelis Realize, Irving

Some Israelis simply underestimate the strength and depth of the relations between the diaspora and Israel,” according to Irving Bernstein, executive vice-chairman of the United Jewish Appeal and American Jewish fund-raising’s most senior executive officer, “The diaspora leadership is much warmer, much more involved, much more familiar with Israel’s problems than are Israelis with Jewish problems in the diaspora,” he said. In Jerusalem last week for the Jewish Agency’s annual Assembly, Bernstein had a wide-ranging conversation with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s executive vice-president Jack Siegel and Jerusalem correspondent David Landau.

SCANDALS HAVE NO EFFECT ON FUND-RAISING

The issue of the relative warmth and involvement of Israeli and diaspora Jewries came up in connection with recent reports in the Israeli press from the United States, to the effect that the spate of financial scandals in Israel was adversely affecting fund-raising for Israel. Bernstein had little patience with such reports which he frankly termed “garbage.” “Of course ideally American Jews want to see all Israelis as Ari Ben-Canaans (the here of the film “Exodus”). But the scandals have had no negative effect on fund-raising efforts,” he said. “On the contrary, American Jews give Israel credit for not covering up these ‘affairs,’” Bernstein added.

Obviously, if the situation went on for a considerable time, the atmosphere would begin to get uncomfortable,” he said. “But at present it seems to us that the Israeli government and people have resolved to root out the corruption and punish the guilty–and we naturally applaud this.” Neither could the occasional reports of inefficiency, mismanagement or actual peccadilloes in the Jewish Agency–the direct recipient of UJA funds–sully the basic image of the Agency, Bernstein said. American Jews saw the Agency and its work as “strong and right” and were not overly influenced by these reports which Bernstein felt were sometimes overplayed or sensationalized in the Israeli press.

ISRAELIS’ ATTITUDE TOWARD DIASPORA JEWS

The basic attitude of American committed Jews towards Israel was molded, Bernstein said, by a sense of involvement that could well withstand the doubts and questions which were occasioned by open and frank reporting of Israeli life and society. What concerned Bernstein was the ignorant or indifferent attitude towards their brethren in the diaspora of some Israelis. He cited the case of a young army officer who was invited by UJA to lecture to American audiences. The experience opened his eyes to a reality of which he had before been only dimly aware. “A year ago I didn’t know you existed,” he admitted frankly. “You have made me into a better Israeli and a better Jews.”

FAVORS REALISTIC OVER IDEAL BUDGET

This year Jewish Agency Treasurer Leon Dulzin presented the Assembly with a budget based on a realistic estimate of income rather than on the needs which the Agency would like to meet. Bernstein feels that, on the whole, this approach is more meaningful and ultimately more productive than that previously employed, under which the budget was always linked to needs rather than to estimates of actual income. He noted that although at first glance it might seem that from the fund-raising viewpoint the bigger figure would be more effective, in practice a big figure, never attainable in realistic terms, discouraged donors who felt: “My donation won’t make much difference anyway–the gap is so wide.” With a realistic income-linked budget, however, every contributor could be made to feel that his donation counted and was directly appreciated, he said. Bernstein said the current campaign was going well and promised to bring in the second-highest ever total of pledges, less only than the 1974-Yom Kippur War campaign when pledges totalled $675 million.

COMMUNICATIONS DIFFICULTIES

The UJA, he said, hoped to collect $300 million in cash this year, an even higher cash total than that realized during the post-Yom Kippur War year. Bernstein acknowledged that there had been some complaints by Assembly delegates on the budget and finance committee over the inadequate time given them before the Assembly opened to study the budget proposals and the inadequate explanatory material supplied with the figures. He said the Board of Governors, which convened more frequently and were more consistently involved in Agency work, had not experienced these difficulties, but admitted that other Assembly members might well have found themselves confused by the complexities of the budget.

In that connection he observed that the reconstituted Jewish Agency, now four years old, experienced its first communications problems, not all of which were finally ironed out. He noted that bookkeeping procedures in Israel were different from the U.S. He was sure, however, there was no deliberate attempt on the part of Agency officials to hide information or confuse Assembly members. The situation has improved significantly in recent years, Bernstein said, and he was sure it would continue to improve as the weight of the up-and-coming new generation American Jewish leadership made itself felt in top Agency policy-making forums. Bernstein predicted that the Agency would gradually be guided by the fund-raising bodies, which joined with it under the reconstitution, towards higher standards of efficiency and management. He noted that a prominent Harvard management consultant, now on sabbatical in Israel, had been commissioned to look into the Agency’s procedures. His commission was one direct result of the reconstitution and the influence of the UJA and United Israel Appeal in the Agency’s affairs; and there would, he was confident, be other similarly beneficial results in the future.

Asked if the Israel-U.S. tension that followed the March “shuttle” failure of Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger had discouraged American Jews in their support for Israel, Bernstein said he had found the very reverse was the case. American Jews have become in past months as steadfast–or, if possible, more steadfast–than even the government of Israel in their determination not to bow to Washington’s pressure, he declared, Kissinger’s blaming Israel for the March failure seemed to harden American Jewish attitudes, Bernstein said. When Premier Yitzhak Rabin, on his recent Washington visit, vowed that Israel would not accept now what it had rejected in March, he was treated to a round of prolonged and rousing applause by Jewish leaders, Bernstein recalled.

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