Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Now that it's 2011.

In 1939, after Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, then British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain went to Munich, bought into whatever Hitler was selling, and returned to London promising, in words that live in infamy to this day: "Peace for our time." Well, friends, after two days of meetings among JAFI and JDC leaders and the CEOs of three Large City Federations, two of whom represent the partners' largest core funders, JFNA's leaders claimed they had reached a "Framework Agreement" that promised "sh'lom bayit for our time" -- or something like it. And, there you have it. As predicted in Posts on this Blog before that two day meeting occurred, the intervention and control of these CEOs would be required to "bail out" JFNA's leadership...and they probably believe that they did so. And, they would be wrong.

As in so many things JFNA, the timing of the "agreement" that will preserve peace in our time was dictated by the calendar -- "the GA dates demand that we actually have something for the Board to do." And, as past examples evidence, act in haste, repent at leisure.

Having read the materials for the meeting which included a framing paper -- MOVING FORWARD: The JFNA/Federation Four-Point Plan to Revitalize Movement-Wide Funding for Israel & Overseas (the Paper hereinafter)-- and the homogenized Leadership Briefing that followed the meetings (supplemented by Jacob Berkman's comprehensive article on the "peace plan" that appeared in JTA a day later and a comprehensive article in The Fundermentalist [to whom someone -- at JFNA?? -- snuck the Draft]), and the "disclosures," such as they were, to the JFNA Board, it is clear that in fact little has been agreed to...very little.

The three major claimed "results" with commentary:

1. JFNA and the federations (at least the three represented) "agreed" that JAFI and the Joint would be the exclusive recipients of federation core allocations;

2. There would be something called an "aspirational allocations goal" as yet undetermined in percentage to which those federations currently beneath that goal would be "asked to aspire" through some form of hitherto resisted in toto JFNA-led advocacy effort; and

3. Even though core allocations to JAFI/JDC have been cut by over 1/3 in the last five years under the stewardship of the current Co-Chairs (in different positions), JFNA, which, in the Paper for the meeting acknowledged that it has already engaged a consultant for the purpose and budgeted $250,000 back in May, will convene a "global planning table" to which 10% of the core allocations will be redirected for reallocation to "buckets of projects/programs" ("buckets" being the appropriate descriptive term) that will be submitted, at least initially, by JAFI/JDC (described as the "threshold partners" in the Paper -- I think we all know what that portends).

1. The federations, with JFNA's assent by its deafening silence, have already begun a massive reallocation of what was once "core." In fact, The JFNA Chair failed to assure exclusivity in her interpretation of the meeting -- instead, JAFI and JDC were to be no more than the "threshold partners" -- whatever that means. With no mandated (as opposed to "aspirational") minimum core allocation coupled with a long-term tri-partite agreement among the parties, this "initial exclusivity" while welcome, is but fool's gold. Further, the JFNA Draft Agreement offered no exclusivity to JAFI and the Joint.This Agreement would have a term of only three years;

2. At least three times previously (in annual ONAD resolutions), the federations have been "urged" to aspire to higher core allocations. In fact, by Resolution only those federations which maintained or increased their core allocations were to have the "right" to designate a portion of their Israel/overseas allocations. The implicit suggestion that an "aspirational goal" will in any way impact federation allocations is naive at best or suggests that those who propose it are in some form of denial. Based on the last six years, at least, any suggestion that JFNA leadership will do anything...any...thing... to implement this "aspiration" is living in some alternative universe...though it would be nice.

3. JFNA and those gathered for the meetings chose to ignore twin realities: (a) that a succession of ONAD reports and the Plant Report which followed, all of which were adopted by the JFNA Board, stated that there should not be any reallocation of core dollars at a time of declining allocations. Never have allocations declined in the gross amounts we have witnessed over the past five years while JFNA paid only lip service to the growing unmet needs of the Agency and Joint. Never mind. Without anything other than a claimed "consensus" arising out of a JFNA Retreat almost two years ago, attended by less than 1/3 of the federations, this leadership has been framing a "global planning table" for two years -- but with no money to distribute, there would be no purpose. So, forget history, forget that ONAD failed miserably, we will return to it as if ONAD had been successful.

Some federation professional leaders and, certainly, the small group of JFNA "leaders," continue to believe that if they raise the flag, the federations will salute. I don't doubt the federation professional leaders' who drove this "process," good will or integrity. Their desire to "save the system" is self-evident. Their attitude appears to be, however: If vital unmet needs served by JAFI/JDC have to be sacrificed in so doing, so be it. They are willing, even anxious to ignore realities such as the fact that once a federation's allocation to JAFI/Joint is reduced, it does not recover. (New York-UJA will argue that its allocations have recovered, and, perhaps it is the exception that proves the rule [even as its allocation mandated at 70% in the merger that created UJA-Federation fell along the wayside long, long ago]; one should look at Cleveland's allocation, cut by $3 million in the late 90's, never recovered that amount again, even with promises to do so.) The "aspirational goal" is a non-starter absent any real commitment by JFNA to meet its moral obligation to advocacy and, even then, which of its leaders would be capable of leading that effort?

Yes, there is a framework for a "deal on overseas funding," but like so many things, the devil is in the details. A real agreement must now be documented -- it remains an "Agreement in Principle" even as some JFNA leaders are waving around a paper agreement asserting "it's the best deal that we could get." As in Candide, brilliantly revived last month at Chicago's Goodman Theatre: "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds." Uh-huh.

Yes, it's "sh'lom bayit for our times." When Neville Chamberlain uttered his infamous lines in London, he concluded, after uttering "it is peace for our time," with the following "Go home and get a nice quiet sleep." Exactly what some at JFNA are hoping for tonight, tomorrow night... and always.

More to follow.


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