Israel Campaign Designates Funds After School Security Costs Reduced

The United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group for North American federations, has designated $18 million in new funds as part of its Israel Emergency Campaign.

The move comes amid scrutiny of the campaign, stemming from confusion over funding for one of its designated priorities, security for Israeli schoolchildren.

The latest allocations — for medical services, trauma relief and citizen safety programs — include $12 million that were originally targeted for school security.

Those funds were reallocated after the Israeli government reduced its estimate of the cost of installing school guards at kindergartens and nursery schools, according to UJC officials.

The Israel Emergency Campaign, the largest emergency fund-raising effort for Israel to date, was launched in April to respond to the material and emotional needs of the Jewish state amid the ongoing intifada.

Some $319 million has been raised in moneys and pledges for the campaign, which has been extended through next year.

Allocations are determined through a special committee with 10-15 representatives from various size federations and UJC staff.

Recommendations for projects come from the UJC’s overseas partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which work closely with the Israeli government.

After Israel’s initial August estimate that it would take $20 million for 1,500 new officers to patrol kindergartens and schools with small populations, the government cut its estimate in early September to $8 million for 865 guards.

The number and location of schools is classified, according to the UJC.

Israeli police, too, would not give the information.

The Israeli government provides protection to all schools with more than 100 students.

A lawsuit by an Israeli father against the government for failing to place guards at his 4-year-old son’s school prompted several stories in The New York Jewish Week that detailed the objections by parents and local Israeli authorities to a total allocation for school guards they deem insufficient.

Indeed, the UJC confirmed that the program to begin hiring and placing the school guards got a late start. They had been scheduled to be placed in early September, the beginning of the school year.

Now most of the guards have been hired and placed, according to Jeff Kaye, director of financial resource development for the Jewish Agency, with the rest slated to begin work by the end of this month.

Still, officials in Israel made clear that there will continue to be small kindergartens that are not protected.

Interviews with officials at the agencies involved in the assessment and disbursal of the campaign funds — Israel, the UJC, and the UJC’s overseas partner involved in the program, the Jewish Agency — revealed finger-pointing across the board.

But here’s where there’s consensus: Israel sharply reduced its initial assessment of the costs for school guards, and that move caught UJC off guard.

UJC officials say they have to defer to the Israeli government’s assessment of its needs on such matters.

"I’m content to simply accept the security analysis of the government," which, in matters of security, knows best, said Stephen Hoffman, UJC’s president and CEO.

But Hoffman said all campaign funds are being used for their intended purpose. "Nothing smells bad," he said.

"Supporters of the Israel Emergency Campaign are making a tremendous and tangible difference in the lives of Israelis during an incredibly challenging time for them," he said.

"Every single dollar raised is destined toward this objective, and those who have generously given to this special campaign know that to be indisputable."

For its part, the Jewish Agency, which served as the go-between between Israel and the UJC on the school security program, is holding out hope for more funds.

In a statement issued last week, the Jewish Agency said the government of Israel is "only competent authority for determining kindergarten and school security requirements and criteria."

But it added: "Should facts in the field dictate a revision of the government’s cost analysis for additional school security, the Jewish Agency, in coordination with the Government of Israel and its partner organizations, will designate" unused Israel Emergency Campaign funds to "cover revised additional school security cost estimates."

UJC officials said they did not yet know whether they would be allocating additional funds for school security, beyond the $8 million already committed.

UJC and the federations "stand ready to examine and address the needs of the Israeli people during this critical time, and we recognize that those needs are fluid and changing day by day," said UJC spokesman Glenn Rosenkrantz.

Meanwhile, the $12 million freed up by the lower estimate for school security is being funneled into other areas designated as priorities, including medical and psychological aid for "vulnerable populations."

When the UJC launched its campaign in April, it outlined five priority areas:

child safety and protection programs, like school security and summer and after-school programs;

hospitals and other medical needs;

security initiatives, such as neighborhood civilian guards;

aid to Israeli citizens directly affected by terrorist attacks; and

immigration and absorption of Jews suffering economically in Argentina.

To date, the UJC has allocated $131 million, including the $8 million for school guards and the $18 million announced last week.

Other funds have been allocated to:

For their part, local federation leaders say the confusion over the funding for school security is not an issue.

"We understand that the pace of getting the guards in place is somewhat slower than we thought it would be," said Martin Abramowitz, vice president for planning and agency relations for the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston.

"But overall we have confidence in the ability of the UJC to deliver," he said.

The flap is a "nonissue" at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, said Misha Galperin, its executive vice president and CEO.

Galperin, whose community is the fourth largest contributor to the general emergency fund, after New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, said he has been assured by the Prime Minister’s Office in Israel that their "needs as they spell them out are being met appropriately."

"Whatever is needed, as long as UJC has the money, is being sent," Galperin said.

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