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Feuding Aliyah Groups Agree to Work Together

A fierce feud over immigration to Israel appears to be ending, as two organizations involved in promoting aliyah have agreed to work together.

The deal involves the Jewish Agency for Israel, the quasi-governmental organization that traditionally has overseen aliyah, and Nefesh B’Nefesh, a nonprofit group that has used cash incentives to help encourage 16,000 people to move to Israel since 2002.

Both organizations announced Sunday morning that they had agreed to a “collaborative venture” to increase North American aliyah.

The complete details of the deal have yet to be made public, but according to officials with both groups, Nefesh B’Nefesh will take the lead on marketing aliyah, while the Jewish Agency will oversee administrative dealings with the Israeli government. Specifically, the agency will handle the immigrants’ paperwork.

Prospective immigrants in the past had to fill out one application with the agency and another with Nefesh B’Nefesh if they hoped to receive grants from the latter. Now the process will be streamlined to one application.

“We are not ceding responsibility for aliyah to Nefesh B’Nefesh, we are entering into a collaborative effort with them,” said Shoel Silver, the chair of the Jewish Agency’s budget and finance committee.

Silver negotiated the deal with officials from Nefesh B’Nefesh, the Jewish Agency and the Jewish federation system, which provides funding to both organizations.

The agreement ends a sparring match between the Jewish Agency and Nefesh B’Nefesh that had existed since Nefesh B’Nefesh started to gain traction several years ago, with a modern marketing scheme and deep-pocketed financiers hoping to unseat the agency.

The feud came to a head in the summer of 2007 when the two groups broke off a long-standing arrangement under which the Jewish Agency would give Nefesh $1,000 for each new immigrant the organization brought to Israel.

Nefesh accused the agency of failing to live up to its financial commitments. The agency claimed it had paid $1.2 million to $1.5 million in advance to Nefesh for immigration targets, but wanted the money back because the new group had failed to meet the prescribed goals.

During the brouhaha, agency lay leaders went so far as to call into question Nefesh B’Nefesh’s nonprofit status and suggest that donors should be wary of giving to the organization.

Prior to the deal, Nefesh B’Nefesh had been in discussions with the Israeli government in an effort to secure permission to open its own portfolios for immigrants, which would have allowed the organization to entirely circumvent the Jewish Agency.

But this latest agreement ends the spat and Nefesh B’Nefesh has dropped that pursuit, its chairman and co-founder Tony Gelbart told JTA Tuesday.

“This deal means that the Jewish Agency and Nefesh B’Nefesh have decided that working together for the Jewish people and for aliyah, and that having a working relationship and partnership, is better than simply working alone,” Gelbart said in a telephone interview from Israel. “Whatever differences we had, we decided we should put them aside to work for the original goal, which is to increase aliyah.”

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