A not-so-funny thing happened on the way out of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meetings last month. Appropriately, lay leadership, after revelations about the reality of how MASA millions were being spent in ejewishphilanthropy and on the pages of this Blog and their own suspicions -- millions spent on...exactly what?? -- Board members developed a resolution calling for an Oversight Committee for MASA.
Sounds like a good idea to me and, probably, you. (Of course, there is a serious question why JFNA/UIA hasn't been exercising oversight all along -- that's UIA's obligation under a series of IRS Revenue Rulings...but we will get back to that.) Yet, in an open meeting, after apparent support across a broad section of the Board for the Resolution, the beleaguered JAFI Director General, yes Alan Hoffmann, offered an epic diatribe opposing "further" oversight. Here is his argument as I have come to understand it: MASA is operated through a "Public Benefit Company;" that Company does oversight; the JAFI "Companies Committee" does oversight of the financials; and as the Government of Israel is the lead funder, it must be doing oversight -- therefore, this "logic" went, it would be inappropriate for JAFI (or presumably JFNA/UIA) to "oversee the existing oversight." Of course, the totality of this outburst was totally specious -- Hoffmann just doesn't want anyone or anything doing real oversight that he does not control.
But...why? Well, friends, here is one possible reason. It's painful to report that as I have learned from sources within JAFI, of 11,500 students enrolled in MASA, almost 4,000 (3,950) are from Orthodox Yeshivot -- 35% -- not including Orthodox Bnai Akiva program participants. But this is neither a criticism of the disproportionate enrollment of Yeshiva students in MASA nor is it a criticism of the subsidies provided Orthodox student s through many other MASA program; what has been brought to my attention is that many of these Yeshivot did not apply the JAFI MASA funding to lower the cost of tuition -- they either maintained tuition at the prior levels or raised it and thereby absorbed the MASA funding directly into their operating budgets. The participants, the intended beneficiaries of the MASA subsidies, in those cases did not receive the subsidy.
MASA has been the single largest annual JAFI programmatic expenditure. $25 million from the Jewish Agency budget matches by $25 million from the Government of Israel. Yet, there is resistance to greater oversight from JAFI's Director General?
Meanwhile the most painful part of all of this this is that the Agency has cut crucial program after crucial program to maintain zero cuts to MASA (until this year, where it took a modest cut to accommodate a lower number of participants); no Hebrew Ulpanim in the former Soviet Union; cuts to youth villages in Israel; cuts to Jewish identity education in the former Soviet Union; absorption centers, aliyah and education emissaries, kids in Summer Camps in the FSU and Youth Futures -- all cut. Were all or a substantial portion of these cuts made to fund Yeshivot. MASA is and has been run by JAFI's Zionist Education Department and has been under Alan Hoffmann's "oversight" since Day 1. This fiasco, if true, goes right up the JAFI food chain. What did Natan know and when did he know it? This is the best/worst evidence of the need for oversight -- perhaps for an audit independent of the Jewish Agency itself.
So, Hoffmann fought any "additional" oversight but, under the circumstances above, one might question the credibility of what is claimed to be the current oversight. And, then there was this...JFNA's Jerry Silverman, perhaps worrying that someone might recommend oversight of JFNA itself -- something the JFNA lay leadership just hasn't been doing at all -- at least initially embarrassed himself (and, thereby JFNA, as always) by supporting Hoffmann in opposition to further oversight at the JA Board meetings. I guess he forgot that almost the totality of Diaspora funding of MASA comes from the federations which, if they knew what the hell was really going on at MASA, would demand not just oversight but also a forensic accounting. Silverman's objection to intensive...some might say "any"... oversight might be astonishing given his organization's fiduciary obligations but, look, it's Jerry. He so badly needs to have this explained to him -- but by whom exactly? Michael Siegal? Steve Hoffman? Puhleez.
Maybe Jerry JFNA-Will-Die-If-the-GPT-Fails had forgotten that the GPT's J-Quest, the "Signature Initiative" that remains (and given JFNA's track record will forever remain) unfunded, is expected to tie into the GOI "Initiative" and is, in large measure, a MASA funding "Initiative" -- you would think that Silverman would recognize the value in the "selling" of MASA to be able to assure complete oversight; you would think Hoffmann would want the same thing...but, after all, it's Jerry and Alan. One probably doesn't understand it; the other just doesn't want it.
After the debate on the floor of the Board of Governors, here is what we ended up with:
"Whereas MASA is a premier program which the Jewish Agency operates in partnership with the Government of Israel;
Whereas MASA represents an important partnership with participants, federations, donors and the State of Israel;
Whereas the Board of Governors has a fiduciary responsibility for MASA;
Therefore MASA will submit a full report to the Committee including criteria for programs and financial expenditures and any further information requested by the committee. The Committee will convene to discuss the report and determine next steps."In other words...nothing. Now, let's get back to JFNA/UIA. Here is the one organization that, while its leaders have some ambitious and expansive plans for UIA, knows what its responsibilities and obligations are by law -- to approve the application of American contributions to JAFI and to provide direct and continuing oversight of the expenditure of those funds as well as the advocacy for and the monitoring of the US Refugee Grant, and project implementation and oversight. UIA's Executive Vice-Chair, its Executive Director as it were, Danny Allen, has known, through his prior experience in the position and now, that UIA must monitor and oversee JAFI's budget and programs, including MASA -- UIA does not need a special resolution to do so. Rich Bernstein, UIA Chair and an esteemed lawyer, would know this as well and argue for it were he not so absorbed in his self-selected role as advocate for the Government of Israel Special Initiative (even though the drafting and negotiation of the "definitive agreement" are in the hands of outside counsel hired for those purposes).
So, I would suggest that UIA immediately if not sooner assure the Federation system that it is engaged in total and intensive oversight of all Jewish Agency programs including MASA. And, if Alan Hoffmann objects, or if UIA's oversight is impeded, that American federation funds for MASA be frozen until UIA has done its work and released its findings.
It's time for this interference with oversight to stop...period. We have to be able to have full confidence in our institutions. If Hoffmann and/or Silverman don't get it, they should go.