American Fund-raisers to Review Relationship with Jewish Agency

The future of the Jewish Agency as the primary recipient of United Jewish Appeal fund-raising campaigns for Israel has been officially opened up for discussion.

The decision not to renew automatically the five-year contract binding the UJA campaign to the Jewish Agency reflects repeated tensions between the fund-raising community and the Jewish Agency, most recently concerning the charges of financial improprieties surrounding Jewish Agency Chairman Simcha Dinitz.

“It’s not the intent of leadership to change the agreement,” said Max Fisher, the Jewish Agency’s founding chairman and the dean of the American fund-raisers. “But at least take a look at what the Jewish Agency is doing.”

Fisher spoke Wednesday at a board meeting of the United Israel Appeal, the conduit by which UJA money goes to Israel.

The UIA’s contract, which names the Jewish Agency as its exclusive agent in Israel and sets up the terms by which the UIA oversees the Jewish Agency budget, expires at the end of 1994.

Under the contract, if the UIA did not serve notice now, the contract would be automatically renewed for another five years.

UJA money also goes to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, serving Jewish communities around the world. The JDC and the UIA are in the midst of renegotiating the formula which apportions UJA revenue between them.

With the future of the Jewish Agency-UJA connection now open, the stage is set for those opposed to the situation to make their case. Some critics of the Jewish Agency, including some local federation officials, have argued that American Jewish philanthropy in Israel might best be realized through other means.

Despite the differences they may have had with the Jewish Agency on the Dinitz issue and other matters, the leadership of the fund-raising organizations is prepared to defend the Jewish Agency.

A ‘THERAPEUTIC’ MOVE

The UIA’s executive committee, convening the night before the broader board meeting, affirmed its “intention to retain the Jewish Agency for Israel as our exclusive agent in Israel.”

The UJA leadership, as well as that of the Council of Jewish Federations, signed on to the statement.

Nonetheless, the resolution to open the contract was passed unanimously, out of a sense that discussion of the issue would be “therapeutic,” in the words of one board member from San Francisco.

“In supporting the work of the Jewish Agency, it’s important people feel they’re are not muzzled from discussing it in free and open debate,” said Paul Berger, one of the UIA representatives on the Jewish Agency board.

At the same time, by opening up the relationship, the UIA is also refusing to sheathe its most potent weapon in its ongoing disputes with its partner in the Jewish Agency, the World Zionist Organization.

A six-member committee representing the UIA and the WZO has been negotiating a resolution to a number of disputes, among them the elimination of the politically linked heads of Jewish Agency departments.

In these deliberations, the unspoken ultimate weapon at the disposal of the American fund-raisers was the possibility of cutting off funds to the Jewish Agency.

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