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Jewish Agency Assembly Likely to Discuss Immigration Plans, Broadened Funding, Law of Return

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A contingency plan for massive Soviet Jewish immigration, funding for Reform and Conservative immigrants to Israel and proposed changes in the "Who is a Jew?" law will likely be discussed at the 1987 Jewish Agency Assembly June 21-25 in Jerusalem.

The 398 members of the Jewish Agency Assembly meet annually to review the coming year’s budget — a proposed $427 million — and programs. This year, the Assembly will also elect a new Board of Governors.

The Jewish Agency’s programming is largely devoted to social welfare, promoting Jewish immigration and resettlement of new immigrants. Yet, politics is rarely absent from the Assembly.

Tensions between the so-called Zionist factions, which align along Israeli party lines, and the American fund-raisers, who provide the bulk of the Agency’s annual budget, have been labelled by some a crisis.

FUND-RAISERS SEEK MORE INPUT

Some local Jewish Federations have shown a desire to exert more direct control over where their dollars are going and the programs themselves. In January, the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties decided to allocate $100,000 directly to charities in Israel not funded by the Jewish Agency, instead of to the United Jewish Appeal (UJA).

The federation made the allocation, a small percentage of its $8.5 million annual contribution to UJA, as a statement that its priorities were not being addressed within the Jewish Agency framework.

"The issue of the kind of partnership between Israel and the diaspora and the quality of that partnership will be raised," said Irving Kessler, executive vice-chairman of United Israel Appeal (UIA). The UIA is the organization created to channel the money raised by UJA in North America to the Jewish Agency. Half of the Agency Assembly is composed of UIA delegates representing Federations across America.

The other half comes from the Zionist parties represented in the World Zionist Organization (WZO). Kessler urged the Zionist contingent of the Agency to "deemphasize politics" and work for a common and united leadership.

REFORMS PROPOSED

Leon Dulzin, chairman of the WZO and the Jewish Agency, called Monday for the full union of the WZO and the Jewish Agency and general reform in the structure of both organizations.

Speaking to the Zionist General Council (ZGC, the leadership body of the WZO), Dulzin said such a union could eliminate much of the overlap in the two organizations’ programs.

"Departments should be unified, the number of executives should be limited, the Zionist federations should be strengthened by means of having their leaders participate in the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency," Dulzin said. "Functional departments should be set according to geographical zones."

Ephraim Even, chairman of the ZGC, warned against the trend of leading fund-raisers taking over the Jewish Agency. He recommended that the WZO maintain control over the Jewish Agency as well as aliyah and Jewish education programs in the diaspora.

But beyond the politics of leadership and control, specific programs and issues will come under scrutiny during the Assembly session, including the economic troubles of agricultural kibbutzim and moshavim, aliyah and absorption processes, and the controversy over funding for "non-Zionist" elements in Israel.

The ongoing debate over the "Who is a Jew?" question also is likely to be on the Assembly’s agenda. Last month, Jerold Hoffberger of Baltimore, chairman of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, sent a letter of consternation to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir following signs that Shamir was ready to bow to pressure from the religious parties to amend the "Who is a Jew?" provision of Israel’s Law of Return.

The religious parties are seeking a change that would require Jews-by-choice to be converted "according to halacha (Jewish law)" in order to receive the automatic citizenship conferred upon all Jews under the Law of Return.

In the letter, Hoffberger advised Shamir that changing the status of "Who is a Jew?" would be potentially damaging to Israel’s relationship with diaspora Jewry. Hoffberger also called on Shamir to consult with the leaders of the Jewish Agency before amending the law.

The controversy over "Who is a Jew" is one of several issues of religious pluralism on the Assembly’s agenda this year. Last year, the Assembly passed a resolution providing for equitable funding for all streams of Judaism in Israel. This year, delegates will examine the steps taken during the past year to institute this resolution, which included an increase in funding to the Israeli programs of the American Reform and Conservative movements.

Last year, the Assembly also passed a resolution to cut off Jewish Agency funding for any non-Zionist institution or person in Israel. A progress report on this resolution and many others is expected this year.

But the bulk of Jewish Agency funds and programs is devoted to the aliyah and resettlement process. Under this category, the state of agricultural settlements, crisis in the moshavim and changing settlement patterns will be discussed.

Although aliyah from Iran, the Soviet Union and Ethiopia is rising slowly, many agree that the Jewish Agency must be prepared for a mass immigration and absorption of Jews from these countries. A plan for this, including a proposal for emergency funds, is in the works for the upcoming session.

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