Monday, February 11, 2008


Five years ago next week, as Chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel North America, I met with leaders of the JDC at their offices in New York to discuss what I felt was a critical need -- a JDC/JAFI advocacy effort in the United States. Ellen Heller, Steve Schwager, Alan Jaffe and I had a cordial and frank conversation among friends. I reflected on the lack of allocations advocacy by UJC and how I felt JDC and JAFI and the federations could benefit from a joint advocacy program. Eight weeks or so (and one knee replacement) later, upon my inquiry, I found that I was typically unpersuasive -- the JDC still believed that only a UJC-managed advocacy program made systemic sense.

Over the next five years, but for a few months of an effort called "UJC Global Accountability," the continuing lack of any national advocacy effort has proven to be disastrous for the Agency and Joint: allocations continue to fall, the overseas allocations pool in a number of federations has been perceived to be but a "bank" from which federations make annual "withdrawals" (particularly to satisfy UJC dues obligations), and, at the end of 2007, federation cash payments to JAFI and JDC failed to meet UJC's own projections. And, still, UJC mounts no advocacy effort and JAFI and JDC are, more and more, in the communities themselves. All of this has happened while the aggregate of annual campaigns continues to grow. The merger promise of increased revenues to our Israel and overseas partners has been stood on its head and UJC leadership appears, if anything, oblivious.

I know that our leadership believe that UJC can have no real impact on allocations and from that premise conclude that an investment of resources to the issue would generate little if any return on investment. Had there been any substantive effort in this area that would support their speculation that might be one thing...but, inasmuch as there is a moral imperative on UJC to advocate for JAFI and JDC, the least UJC can do would be to try!!

Then there are those at UJC who would certainly argue that, as advocacy is a labor intensive activity with significant travel costs, UJC "just can't afford it." Well, that appears to be true of a lot of what you and I might consider to be "UJC priorities." One clear reality is that within a budget in excess of $40 million and growing, UJC can't find the money for any number of "priorities."

  • The UJC/JCPA Israel Advocacy Initiative (in UJC acronym-speak, the "IAI"). While this is a partnership that "...serves as a powerful Israel advocacy infrastructure," UJC can't find the funding to support it beyond 2008. So, federations whose dues are already at the breaking point will be asked to find more dollars for the IAI programs over and above dues:

  • When UJC determined that it needed additional staff in its Washington office, an attorney, federations were asked to pony up additional dollars over and above dues;

  • And when UJC determined that a school needed to be constructed in Ethiopia, select federations came through with significant additional dollars UJC could not afford out of its dues.

There are probably more examples, I am just not privy to them.

Suffice it to say, UJC leaders can rationalize any program they support as fitting within the UJC budget priorities, and those which they support less, "can't spare a square; we just don't have a square to spare." As I devoted an earlier Post ( It's the Economy...) to my friend Jeff Solomon's Forward op-ed commentary on the need for non-profits in our world to plan for a recessionary economy, it is not necessary to repeat the admonitions here and one would expect that UJC would lead the way -- but, no. As their dues are secured by the threat of membership termination (an ever-eroding "threat" it appears), UJC appears unmotivated to reexamine its budget and its priorities even as its federation owners do so. So long as the owners remain passive and disengaged, UJC can operate inside the bubble it has created, but it cannot succeed as it must.


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