Some major American philanthropists may view the Jewish Agency for Israel with skepticism at best, and at worst plain antagonism. But Israeli philanthropists have a newfound confidence in the organization that helped settle and develop the State of Israel.
So said the man in charge of Israeli fund raising for the Agency in an interview on Sunday with the Fundermentalist.
The Fundermentalist, in Israel on assignment, sat down with the Agency’s director of development, Amos Elad, at the organization’s Jerusalem headquarters. The topic: Elad’s area of expertise, partnerships between Israeli and American philanthropists.
Elad, who oversees Israeli philanthropy for the Agency, says that he has seen a boom in contributions from Israelis since Israel’s war with Hezbollah in Lebanon in the summer of 2006. It was during that time that some of Israel’s mega-wealthy joined with the Agency, known in Israel as the Sachnut, to give immediate help to Israelis in danger. Most notably, Israel Discount Bank chairman Nochi Dankner funneled some 100 million shekels through the Agency for various relief efforts.
Contributions from Israelis now make up about 10 percent of the Jewish Agency’s budget, Elad said. Before the war, they made up next to nothing.
“I definitely see a change after the war,” he said. “The war proved to the world and in Israel that the Jewish Agency is a very strong player. Also [in the eyes of] those federations and to those that are skeptical of our work, we did things. We took 40,000 to 50,000 children out of the North and to camps. We did tremendous things during the war. We facilitated world Jewry’s money and Israeli philanthropists’ money and did what Israel needed.”
It also didn’t hurt that during the height of Hezbollah’s rocket attacks against Israel’s north, the Agency’s chairman, Ze’ev Bielski who is generally beloved in Israel publicly went to the north to deliver air conditioners to bomb shelters.
“It was perceived a little differently here than it was in America,” the Jewish Agency’s North American spokesman, Jacob Dallal, also in Israel for the week, told the Fundermentalist.
Dallal, who was working as the spokesman for the Israel Defense Force during the war, explained: “America is a little removed. I was not working for JAFI at the time, and I had nothing to do with the Sachnut. I was very busy in the army. But, for example, I did know that they were giving out money to the soldiers. There was a cumulative effect here. Also because the war didn’t go so great, especially because on the home front, things were not running smoothly to put it mildly. The Jewish Agency filled in the gap. In the consciousness of the people, it rejuvenated its image here as something that has a strong hand and was able to under duress act quickly and efficiently. There was an image overhaul which I noticed as a complete outsider. It is less felt back in New York.”
“Less felt” may be more than an understatement.
According to sources close to the Jewish Agency, a group headed by Charles Bronfman that includes some of the largest American Jewish foundations including the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation has been meeting with officials of the Agency since last September in an attempt to force the organization to become more transparent.
Much of the pressure seems to be focused on forcing the Agency to sever ties with the World Zionist Organization, which now appoints half of the Jewish Agency’s board.
Jewish Agency officials insist that the organization is working toward becoming more transparent. In the past months, they say, the organization has made all of its employees sign non-conflict-of-interest agreements, and the Agency says that more reforms are in the offing.
Still, American philanthropists are putting the squeeze on the Agency. The Fundermentalist has heard that major players in Cleveland are trying to force the city’s Jewish Federation to cease funding the Agency. The federation’s president and CEO, Stephen Hoffman, admits that some of his lay leaders have started that conversation but he said emphatically that never will come a day that the Cleveland federation does not fund the Jewish Agency. Some board members could stop their own donations from reaching the Agency, but others will step up with money to take their place, he said.
Israeli mega-donors seem less concerned about the Agency, according to a recent Haaretz story. Israelis, including “Avi Naor, Benny Landa, Eitan Wertheimer, David Kolitz and Noam Lanir have been donating more than $1 million a year for projects that help at-risk youth, Ethiopian immigrants and Holocaust survivors.”
Here’s a list, provided by Dallal and Elad, of Israeli donors to the Jewish Agency:
Nochi Dankner ,IDB Group
Elishar Food Corporation
Bar Bino Inc.
Avi Naor – Oran Foundation
Moshe Theumim Check Point
Ben & Evelyn Lipshitz Charity Trust
Eithan & Ala First
Fritz Companies Israel T.Ltd
HyperMedia Systems Ltd.
Joel And Riva Koschitzky
Shalmor Avnon Amichai /Y&R
SHIBOLET & CO