The Jerusalem Post has two interesting reports this morning about the Jewish Agency for Israel.
First, it seems that the government of Israel is now considering making its first contribution to the agency’s core budget — traditionally the responsibility of the Jewish federation system — to help close a budget gap in part opened up by the federations’ own funding issues.
From the JPost:
Now, The Jerusalem Post has learned, the government is developing a practical plan for covering any budget shortage caused by a years-long decline in donations and the global financial slowdown.
According to a government source, the Finance Ministry is preparing to contribute up to $12 million toward the shortfall. While Finance Ministry officials oppose the plan, the order to make the funds available came from the Prime Minister’s Office, the source said.
According to the JPost, the agency is considering holding one of its three board of governors meetings this year outside of Israel — in St. Petersburg, Russia:
According to an agency source, there are two goals to the move. The first is to bring the board members into the field, where they can observe first-hand the agency’s projects.
"The idea is to show them the activities where they are happening, rather than settling for slide presentations and ‘academic’ discussions carried in Jerusalem hotel rooms," said the source, a high-ranking official in the organization.
The second goal is to introduce the agency to the Jewish communities, "to show them the relevance of the organization" – and, most important of all, to bring local Jewish activists into the fold as donors to the agency.
"Clearly there is the feeling that unimpeded interaction and direct contact between the local community leaders and the Jewish Agency leaders can expand the circle of donors," the official said.
These are certainly interesting developments, though perhaps not earth shattering just yet.
For one, it does not appear that the government money is a done deal. Yet.
The Jewish Agency’s chairman, Natan Sharansky, apparently first dropped hints about this on one of his fund-raising visits in the United States last week, but my guess is that it will take a little while to come together.
But if it does, one could wonder if it would open up the possibility for shifting even more of the Jewish Agency’s budget to the Israeli government — particularly those of its operations that are more “quasi-governmental.”
The St. Petersburg move is also interesting. First, let it be understood that holding a Jewish Agency board meeting outside of Israel is not unprecedented. According to the agency’s bylaws, it actually has to hold at least one meeting per year in the Diaspora — a bylaw that it has chosen to ignore for some years now.
The choice of St. Petersburg is telling.
Beyond taking board members to an area of the world where the agency does a lot of work, Sharansky has not made any secret about his desire to woo Russian mega-donors. Taking the meeting to St. Petersburg certainly brings the buffet to the philanthropic diner.
According to one Jewish Agency board member, American board members would fly to Israel and then the agency would charter a plane to Russia.
But isn’t St. Petersburg one of the most expensive cities in the world?
Which brings us to my favorite part of the St. Pete story:
The plan is still in development. The agency’s budget crunch means that the added travel expenses would have to be covered by the inviting community.
"The agency won’t spend any money beyond the usual budget of the Board of Governors meetings [in Israel]," the official promised.
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