Menu JTA Search

Jewish Agency Assembly; Decisions and Perspectives

Members of the Jewish Agency’s Executives in Israel and the United States met for a joint session this morning to sum up and review the five days of hectic activity which ended last Thursday night with the closing of the Fifth General Assembly of the Jewish Agency. On the whole, the Executive members and other leaders and participants in the Assembly seemed pleased with its outcome.

Yosef Almogi, who was formally elected chairman of the Agency, said in his closing remarks that it had been a particularly “Zionist” Assembly because it focussed on the two fundamental issues of Zionism; aliya and Jewish education.

Indeed, as many observers noted, this Assembly seemed to mark for the first time a public, conscious acceptance by the Diaspora Jewish leadership – and especially by American Jewish leaders — that aliya is a challenge, vital to the future of the State and of Jewry, which must directly involve them and not just Israel. Israeli emissaries, or tired Zionist functionaries who have paid lip service to the ideal for decades without realizing it in practice.

In the words of Stanley Sloane of New Jersey, one of the 15 national chairmen of the United Jewish Appeal, “The Americans here at the Assembly have come away with the conclusion that it is for us to get involved in aliya….It is we who must exhort our fellow citizens to live in Israel. Sloane spoke as a representative of what is called the “non-Zionist” half of the Agency Assembly–the fund raising organizations as distinct from the organized Zionist party-based bodies.

TWO MAJOR ISSUES TACKLED

One major achievement of the Assembly was the unanimity obtained over the delicate issue of aid for Soviet emigrants heading elsewhere than Israel. Leaders of the Joint Distribution Committee and HIAS met with Premier Yitzhak Rabin; Max Fisher, chairman of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors; Frank Lautenberg, UJA general chairman; Almogi and other top leaders and hammered out a decision, details of which are a closely guarded secret. There is one published fact, however: an eight-man committee is to review the entire problem and report in full within 90 days. (See separate story on Soviet Jewry “Drop-Outs.”)

Another cause for satisfaction was the agreement reached on how UJA and United Israel Appeal funds are to be allocated to the “constructive funds” managed by the various political parties in Israel. The new agreement provides for close and constant scrutiny by the Agency’s Comptroller, a requirement which critics in Israel and abroad have long demanded.

This decision, however, was not uniformly seen as a breakthrough. The Israeli daily Haaretz attacked it editorially as a cover-up of what was to remain, in effect, the same bad situation: Jewish funds raised abroad for Israel being funnelled into party instead of national coffers.

Nor was the rapprochement between Almogi and Jewish Agency Treasurer Leon Dolzin, announced by Almogi himself toward the end of the Assembly, seen by the press and other observers here as necessarily a permanent situation. Both men had been wrangling vociferously for some weeks, and, while Almogi was no doubt right in saying that the press had blown up their squabble there was plainly no guarantee that the rapprochement would last for long.

FINISH CRITICISM VOTED

Especially noteworthy at the Assembly was the very frank criticism voiced by Fisher and Lautenberg. In his closing address to the Assembly Thursday night. Fisher called for an end to politicization of job-getting and job-holding within the Jewish Agency. The Agency and its various services and programs affect the lives of more than 600,000 Israelis and it is vital that it have the best men for the top jobs without regard to their political or party affiliation, Fisher declared. Unfortunately, this has not been the case, he said.

Fisher also said that the point has not been reached where Jewish Agency officials know that their advancement depended solely on their ability and diligence and not on extraneous political factors. The key of party affiliation still bars able people from working for the Agency and bars able officials within the Agency from advancing, Fisher said. The party key must be eradicated and the selection and advancement policies of the Agency must be based solely on merit, he said.

He also criticized the failure to solve the problem of red tape that plagues immigrants because of the duplication of activities between the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Absorption. The late Premier Levi Eshkol had promised to solve this problem years ago and a solution cannot wait much longer, Fisher declared. He expressed concern over the sharp drop in aliya rates both from the West and the Soviet Union.

Lautenberg complained that the fund-raisers he represents did not have sufficient say or participation in the Jewish Agency’s policy-making process — policies supported by funds raised by the UJA and UIA. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, the UJA leader said fund-raisers “feel they want to do more than simply go over the budget and approve or deny allocations which is not the traditional main function of a board of directors.”

Lautenberg said, “I get more and more inquiries from colleagues and other U.S. fund-raisers about what the Agency does and how it functions.” He also complained about the politicization of job placements in the Agency. “Every management position should be given the person best qualified, not according to (party) affiliation,” he said.

Lautenberg bridled at complaints voiced during the General Assembly that fund-raising results have fallen off of late. “It is not fair to chastise a community that does so well. Most of them (the fund-raisers) are volunteers who give much of their time and effort,” he said. Lautenberg said that the Israeli rescue operation at Entebbe Airport in Uganda resulted in an upsurge of contributions. But he still did not think the UJA would be able to cover the $65 million shortfall in the Agency’s $502 million budget for this year. “If it is not made up, the budget will have to be cut back during the year,” he said.

NEXT STORY