As expected, the board of governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel approved a plan to overhaul the agency’s focus at this week’s meetings in Jerusalem.
The plan, which is outlined in an 11-page document, calls for turning the agency’s attention more squarely towards building global Jewish identity, and away from its traditional mission of settling and bringing in new immigrants to Israel.
The plan, according to a statement released by the agency today, passed 119-1.
And the move did have one vocal detractor from within its lay leadership, as the new chairman of the World Zionist Organization and a longtime Jewish Agency board member, Avraham Duvdevan, faulted the plan, calling it “unacceptable and very painful to me," according to Ha’aretz.
The Jewish Agency and Sharansky have said that refocusing on Jewish identity would indirectly encourage immigration to Israel. But Duvdevani, who hails from the Religious-Zionist Bnei Akiva and Mizrachi movements – says "Israel’s demographics mean we cannot afford to wait for Zionism to come about as a by-product. Aliyah (immigration to Israel ) is this country’s oxygen."
Duvdevani – who was recently elected to head the World Zionist Organization but still retains his Jewish Agency posts – said that the Jewish Agency’s budget of roughly $300 million is too small to "carry out a real revolution in Jewish education, which would only come if Diaspora Jewry receives free Jewish education at a of cost several billions of dollars."
We will soon sit down in New York with Misha Galperin, who will officially become the head of global operations for the agency.
Here is the agency’s official statement on the its new plan.
Jewish Agency Adopts Plan Aimed at Securing the Jewish Future
Once again at an historic crossroads for Israel and the Jewish people, the Jewish Agency for Israel has examined changes and challenges in the world and the Board of Governors has approved a new strategic plan that seeks to align its resources and goals to best serve current and anticipated needs. The plan, entitled "Securing the Future: Forging a Jewish agency for Israel and the Jewish people" was approved at a meeting of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors in Jerusalem on Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010. In a vote taken after a three hour debate, there was but one vote against the plan cast by the body of 120 members which is comprised of representatives of Jewish federations of North America, Keren Hayesod and the World Zionist Organization.
The plan places Jewish identity building, in Israel as well as the Diaspora, in a central role in its planned activities, along with mobilizing social activism to address growing social needs in Israel and to encourage young Israelis to live more consciously "Jewish" lives.
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said he views the new strategic direction as a way to increase immigration to Israel. “In an era when aliyah is a matter of choice rather than duress, strengthening identity among young Jews will increase the number of those who choose to make Israel their home,” he said.
“The main danger facing the Jewish world today is a weakening of the connection of young Jews to their People and to the State of Israel,” said Sharansky, who led the new strategic planning process along with Board of Governors Chairman Richard Pearlstone. “Our new plan deals directly with this issue.”
“We were once a people without a homeland; we can’t become a homeland without a people,” said Dr. Misha Galperin, the Jewish Agency’s incoming head of Global External Affairs.
The approval of the strategic plans follows a year of deliberation and consultation. Now approved, the Jewish Agency will begin to implement the new plan in its programming and budget for 2011, which will be presented to the Board of Governors at its meeting in October.
“The Jewish world and the world at large are changing,” said Jewish Agency Director General Alan Hoffmann, who presented the plan to the board, “we have to seize the moment to confront the challenges and build on our strengths, both as an organization and as a people.”
The plan lays out programmatic areas of focus, while reaffirming the Jewish Agency’s long-held vision of ensuring the future of a connected, committed, global Jewish People with a strong Israel at its center. The plan states the mission of the organization as: Inspire Jews throughout the world to Connect with their People, heritage and homeland, and Empower them to build a thriving Jewish future and a strong Israel.
At the opening session Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed support for the new direction, saying that a goal should be set that “within five years every young Jewish adult who wants to visit Israel does so.” He also called for strengthening Jewish identity among Israeli youth and increasing their connection with the Jewish world.
A partnership of world Jewry with the people and State of Israel since 1929, the Jewish Agency for Israel is funded by Jewish Federations of North America, Keren Hayesod, major Jewish communities and federations, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, foundations and donors from Israel and around the world.