JDC leadership has asked, in a variety of venues and correspondence, for an "overseas needs assessment process." Perhaps, the recommendations for a less than fully thought-through "planning table" emanating from the Federation Leadership Institute, was a call for the same thing. What the Smokler-Schwager letter demanded was nothing less than a revivification of the ONAD process -- another five year failure.
Let's look at the history of ONAD -- starting at the finish. At the end of the day, the only positive aspect of ONAD was that multiple federations created Israel & Overseas Committees which never had them before. That's it. The needs served by JAFI and JDC were validated (as they had been before ONAD and since); and the unserved needs assessed. Literally thousands of professional hours were spent by the two partners responding to a cascading series of "asks" of them by UJC professionals and consultants. What was to be a planning process turned into nothing more than a political one -- ONAD had the unintended consequence of turning JAFI and JDC into competitors for every marginal dollar. (Not unlike the Alliance has done to our national agencies.) A process which mandated that JAFI and JDC be "at the table" deteriorated into a free-for-all with our "partners" excluded from the room. And over the entire time frame of the ONAD process, federations reduced their allocations to Israel and Overseas.
For anyone to recommend a return to the years of ONAD, let alone to read that demand (for that is what it was) coming from JDC, is to foresee a return to a process that produced less dollars and great disunity. Who would want that at this time when unity has to be the watchword of all of us?
Perhaps, there are those who believe that this time an ONAD-like process would not be politicized -- those people need to get a grip on reality. When ONAD was conceived in the merger process and its first year-plus, under Alan Jaffe's leadership, there was the hope for a process that would be pure. That hope did not last long. As ONAD, under Jaffe's Chair, concluded, the needs overwhelmed the available allocated resources, and the ONAD Committee initially dedicated itself to raising more. As federations rejected funding over and above the prior year's allocation, e.g., the Ethiopian National Project, the ONAD process began its steady (or precipitous) decline. This was a process that, ultimately, demonstrated only mistrust of the Joint and Agency and was given its merciful burial about five years ago. Sonny Plant's, z'l, Report effectively buried ONAD reiterating that Committeee's conclusion under Alan Jaffe's leadership. Unfortunately what followed were a series of statements of non-support for the Joint and Agency from the then UJC leadership.
Today it is vital that The Jewish Federations of North America work to restore communal trust in the work of Joint and Agency. It can't do so, however, in an environment where one of those powerful partners is the federations' constant critic.