SAN FRANCISCO (Aug. 2)
The United Israel Appeal, the central channel for money raised in the United States for use by the Jewish Agency for Israel, has voted to condemn the Jewish Federation here for diverting $100,000 from the Agency to fund its own Israel programs.
Nevertheless, officials of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties (JCF) say that their action succeeded in calling attention to the need to reform the Jewish Agency’s funding process. The JCF maintains that a broad spectrum of American Jews–both inside and outside that multimillion dollar philanthropic organization–now agree reforms are necessary.
The UIA resolution, made in Jerusalem before the Jewish Agency assembly convened June 21-25, will be delivered to U.S. Jewish leaders by mail within the week. It declares opposition to “the actions of the San Francisco Federation in allocating funds and supporting programs in Israel outside the normal process of the Jewish Agency and outside the united system of funding in the United States.”
JCF leaders insist, however, that their message, if not the means of the Federation’s campaign for reform, had been endorsed overwhelmingly by the Jewish Agency assembly.
MEANS OF PROTEST CRITICIZED
But it was the means that the UIA addressed in its resolution–because of the fear that other Federations might follow San Francisco’s lead and divert money from the Jewish Agency.
While many Jewish leaders agree with the goal of the JCF, they don’t agree with the idea of diverting money from the Agency.
The JCF last year sought to send a signal to the Jewish Agency to alter its funding priorities by allocating $100,000 directly to special projects aimed at promoting democracy in Israel, including Arab-Jewish relations; at improving Israel-diaspora relations; and at encouraging religious pluralism in Israel.
JCF leaders, heartened that their program appeared to have won the backing of others, cited the following.
A resolution passed by the 600 delegates from Israel and the diaspora at the Jewish Agency assembly called on the Agency, with its annual $400 million budget, to be “responsive to innovative programs and services in Israel” and to develop a mechanism of funding those programs under Agency auspices.
Two other resolutions asked the Agency to look into projects that would promote Israel diaspora links on the model of Project Renewal and involve Israeli citizens without regard to party affiliation.
Jewish Agency Board of Governors chairman Jerold Hoffberger, an opponent of JCF’s strategy of diverting funds, criticized the Israeli arm of his organization for making political appointments at the expense of professional expertise, and called for greater participation by diaspora Jews in helping Israel promote Jewish pluralism and Arab-Jewish tolerance.
Hoffberger suggested reconstituting the Agency’s Board “to accommodate more Israelis… who would represent the whole spectrum of their society,” rather than political parties.
A Louis Harris poll, made public at the assembly, which shows that U.S. Jewish Federation, Zionist and religious leaders, by a 61-22 percent margin, think that the Jewish Agency “does not reflect the composition of life in the Jewish world today.”
Close to half the respondents give a negative rating to the way the Agency allocates its funds. The poll also indicates that a majority of Jewish leaders wants to have “more say in the deliberations of the Jewish Agency,” based on their belief that those who raise money for the Agency are simply not cut into the decision making process. For former JCF president Ron Kaufman, the UIA move was a matter of bad timing. Kaufman, a member of the UIA Board whose report defending the JCF strategy prompted the condemnatory resolution, said he believes the vote would not have taken place after the Jewish Agency assembly.
Calling the 600-plus delegates’ acceptance of the San Francisco-backed reform resolutions “a real framework for change,” he singled out the call for “creative, innovative funding” as a sign that “the programs San Francisco has been concerned with can now be taken up by the Jewish Agency–which was, and still is our ultimate goal.”
But even before that happens, the JCF has set aside another $100,000 earmarked for its projects outside Jewish Agency channels–a move that its executive director, Rabbi Brian Lurie, deems necessary for the sake of funding momentum.
By comparison, the JCF’s regular allocation to the Jewish Agency this year comes to a record $7,812,587.
SEEN AS CATALYST
And while Jewish Agency officials still may reject the Federation’s tactics, JCF overseas committee chairman Richard Goldman is convinced that both its method and its message are necessary catalysts for change.
“The fact that the Jewish Agency has come around to our way of thinking indicates that we have been sending positive signals all along,” Goldman said. And although “it’s consoling to know you’re on the right track,” he added, “it’s also frustrating to see how long it takes.”
The JCF first informed the Jewish Agency of its strategy for reform in 1983.
While Federation leaders generally are buoyed by the currents of change within the Jewish Agency, some sought to downplay the JCF’s role in bringing about reform.
Said JCF president Laurence Myers. “Sure we can take some credit for the changes now afoot, but it’s also critical to recognize that those resolutions passed by the Jewish Agency were drafted by the Council of Jewish Federations–29 of which have overseas committees–thus representing a groundswell of support.”