Funding Israel Outside Established Channels Attacked by Zionist Assembly

The American Zionist Federation (AZF) biennial convention here last week unanimously passed a resolution deploring allocation of Jewish community funds outside established channels.

The measure obviously was a reaction to the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation’s (JCF) recent decision to bypass the Jewish Agency by allocating $100,000 directly to projects in Israel — even though the resolution did not cite the Federation by name.

Specifically, the resolution said the AZF “deplores any action by which public campaign funds of the community are disbursed outside the normal United Jewish Appeal-Federation allocations process.”

MOVE CALLED DIVISIVE

The resolution, one of 10 passed by 220 delegates from 16 American Zionist groups comprising the AZF, criticized the unusual allocation on the basis that “it tends to divide the community and the unity of the combined UJA-Federation campaign.” It was a criticism that was echoed from the highest ranks of the international Zionist community and from the Jewish Agency itself through which funds raised by Federations in the U.S. (and by similar groups in other countries) are distributed in Israel.

Leon Dulzin, chairman of the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization Executives, said the San Francisco’s decision “was a very inconvenient move. It is a breach in the unity of the community’s campaign. I urge them to abolish it.”

Akiva Lewinsky, treasurer of the Agency and WZO, called the allocation a mistake, explaining that “if this were to happen on a grand scale, the Jewish Agency wouldn’t be able to carry out its mandate.”

SAYS UNION ISSUE IS NOT APPLICABLE

When reached by telephone for a response, Rabbi Brian Lurie, executive director of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties, said he appreciates the Zionist leadership’s concern but does not think the unity issue is applicable.

“The $100,000 constituted approximately one percent of our overseas allocation,” he said, “compared to the more than $9 million we’ve sent for projects within the UJA-Jewish Agency funding structure this year. If that’s not a unified gesture, I don’t know what is.”

Last month, the JCF finalized plans to allocate $100,000 for program to further democracy in Israel, including Arab-Jewish relations; improve Israel-diaspora relations; and encourage religious pluralism in Israel. The Federation’s move, in the form of a one-year grant and stemming from a request by its Jerusalem-based all-volunteer board, was characterized at the time by JCF leaders as a signal to the Jewish Agency to alter its priorities.

These are areas of burning concern to Israelis and American Jews alike, and the ones that the Jewish Agency ought to address, the JCF leaders said. But it was the earmarking of separate funds that clearly upset the AZF leadership assembly here.

For Benjamin Cohen, AZF president, the Federation’s action represents the beginning of a “trend of Federations who want to decide on their own how they want to spend their money.” That, he said, constitutes “the first step in breaking up an effective process” of fund-raising in the United States.”

According to Lurie, however, the Federation’s decision fits the pattern of giving that has been established by American Zionist organization themselves. “I find their objection interesting,” he said, “when in fact major movements under the AZF umbrella earmark funds for their own projects all the time.”

PROBLEM CAN BE RESOLVED

Despite their objections to the JCF’s action, the Zionist leaders interviewed here seemed confident, however, that the problem of separate funding can be worked out. “This is essentially a family issue and one which can be resolved,” said Milton Shapiro, president of the Zionist Organization of America, which initiated the AZF resolution, although he noted that the JCF’s allocation will have an “adverse effect” on community fund-raising.

Rabbi Reuben Katz of the American Jewish League for Israel, who chaired the committee that drafted the AZF resolution, said, “We’re not censorious but think it was a breach of Zionist discipline. We’re not going to take action against fellow Jews who are working for the good of Judaism.”

NEXT STORY