Sunday, March 29, 2015


1. AIPAC recently concluded its Policy Conference, which saw its attendance  balloon to an actual 17,000 -- an amazing number. Next year, the conference will move to the Verizon Center, the venue that is the home to the Washington Wizards, the NHL Washington Capitals and numerous concerts and other large events. This year the JFNA GA will be held in a pup tent on the Capital Mall.

2. It is rumored that the dedicated and caring philanthropist who has Chaired JAFI's MASA effort in America for years has tendered her resignation. I think all of you who read this Blog understand at least some of the reasons -- many of which start with the name Alan....How does losing the leadership of one of our greatest philanthropists help JAFI, help our People? Does anything cause leadership to ask "why?"

3. Isn't it about time that CEO Never-Met-A-Consultant-I-Didn't-Like provided the JFNA Board with a list of all of the JFNA consultants and their  compensation? (That's a rhetorical question.) The list would include not just the $308,000 consultant hired by The Alliance, but all consultants paid for their work on the Global Planning Table and, of course, the contract with Debra Smith, including the work (?) she does for CEO Jerry. I would like to see a list year-by-year of all consultants, as I am sure would you. Why not send the list to every JFNA Board member for a little peek behind the black curtain that has been drawn down to shield that which should be, must be transparent.

When I served on the JFNA Executive Committee, I remember well when Joe Kanfer brought in a consulting firm in for what was to be an "interview" in what proved to be a pre-cooked huge deal. (That firm had the chutzpah to bring a token Jew in to the interview who appeared [to me] to not even know why he was there -- ala a Mad Men Season 1 episode.) I asked a few questions as it became more and more obvious that the deal had already been made -- the questions were not appreciated. The Committee did set a limit to that Consultant contract -- a limit that was later totally ignored as JFNA poured $100s of thousands more into the consultant with no process. Today? There is no longer even an Executive Committee in existence but for years since the mess I just described, to my knowledge not one consultant contract had been vetted with the JFNA Executive Committee. The opportunities for abuse and self-dealing are self-evident.

4. I was reflecting on the horrific and threatening language being used in the last weeks by the President of the United States and his Chief of Staff (and unnamed "sources close to the White House") -- what The Wall Street Journal characterized as "Obama's Israel Tantrum" --  in condemnation of the policies and statements of the Israeli Prime Minister (ignoring the reality that the PM has apologized for or backed away from them) -- reflecting back to the moments before Obama's terms began. You remember, it was a time when two critical organizations -- critical to Israel-American relations -- the Conference of Presidents and AIPAC elected Chairs who had significant ties to the new President. And just how'd that work out? These two men had other leadership qualities to be sure, but...really. From the mouths of those now ex-Chairs have you heard a discouraging word about this President's attacks on Netanyahu and Israel -- then or now? I am certain, if you asked, you would be told that the two organizations believed that "quiet diplomacy" works best and that "Obama has Israel's back". The only problem with "quiet diplomacy?" We don't even know whether it's taking place, do we? Where are leaders like Shoshana Cardin today -- those who know they are in office to represent us not to curry favor with the sitting President? And, in the wake of the silence on their watch there came the rise of J-Street. Merely a coincidence that out of the void created by the then silence of two vital leadership organizations emerged a "pro-peace pro-Israel" organization that is, in reality, neither, but to which the Obama White House could begin to tether itself so as to, among other things, weaken the very organizations upon which the organized Jewish community relied. 

Of course, the silence from JFNA could be expected...and that's exactly what we got. More on our, or what was once our, Continental organization's silence in my next Post.

Words have consequences; so does silence.

5. Five days ago, Michael Siegal wrote a passionate summary of the circumstances facing the Jews of the Ukraine. It was a good and brief summary albeit, as friends have pointed out to me, replete with errors, and, as events have continued to cascade, the circumstances facing Jewish communities across Ukraine have grown even more precarious than when Siegal wrote his missive. It spoke to the $2.5 million raised by the Federations to date as if that were (1) a success and (2) the funds were raised by JFNA . Neither is true. (As I recall, $625,000 [or more] of that paltry amount was raised right here in Chicago. JFNA raised Michael closed his letter with the following:
"This crisis speaks to the most fundamental reasons that Jewish Federations are so critical. We will not turn away. We are making a difference."
"We are making a difference."  Sorry, Michael, we're not. There should have been a major effort to raise at least $10 million dollars, instead there no effort to raise a thing...JFNA opened a Mailbox, a stinking Mailbox, and sent out some letters, put it on the Website and, apparently, hoped this "problem" would just disappear. The "problem" has just gotten worse and worse and worse. There was no leadership here, there is no leadership here -- not on the professional side, certainly none by the CEO; and, unless Michael believes "letters=leadership," none on the lay side either. Our Board Chair actually believes that if he writes it, it actually happened.

Instead of JFNA "making a difference," JFNA made no difference at all, it just turned away.

6. JFNA is now 15 years old and counting. The two main predecessor organizations -- the Council of Jewish Federations and the United Jewish Appeal -- were distinguished over their eras with great achievements. Tell me this, what have the federations done with JFNA other than owning it? Seriously. Can you name a single achievement? In 15 years? (And trying to wipe out all institutional memory is not an achievement.) And over the last decade? Can you name a single Financial Resource Development effort that even met the lowest possible bar that JFNA's leaders have set? Just look at 5. above. This history is catastrophic. And no one in leadership appears to give a damn.

I do. Many of you do.



Anonymous said...

Instead of spending countless dollars on consultants, would an effective CEO not just hire and RETAIN the best possible talent as full time staff? Instead, there is no transparency and who gets to see the outcomes and impact of the consultants?

Anonymous said...

I would wager that these consultant contracts about which you have complained have been awarded without any competitive bids to "friends of JFNA." How do we allow this to happen time and again?

Anonymous said...

I look forward to reading your response to Bibi's critics, in Washington and elsewhere, and why you believe that Federations must wade in on the issue. In preparation, you might however want to listen to Stav Shaffir's (Israel's youngest MK) speech before J street. Better yet, if you understand Hebrew, her gone viral speech in the Knesset on the true nature of the Zionist dream. And if you do, why not invite a few college students to listen with you. Then, ask who speaks for the hope and future of Israel. My bet is on Shaffir and those she speaks for and not the Libermans, Bennetts and Bibis or domestically the Adelsons, Boteachs and self-serving Republicans who stoke the flame of very real internal Jewish divides.

RWEX said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for writing. You have intentionally misinterpreted what I have written on the subject of your concern so as to insert your views on Bibi, J-Street and "the future of Israel." If you reread the relevant paragraph of the Post, my criticism is with our organizational silence with regard to the President's vitriol directed at Israel --as was the WSJ editorial cited. A federation call for Jewish unity in the face of this Administration's misplaced attacks on Israel would not be out of place would it?

Anonymous said...

My singular point is that neither Bibi nor his government's policies are "Israel" and it is legitimate to take exception to the former. As to the "vitriol" issue I have not seen a goodly amount of respect and calm language coming from the PM over the past few months. One definition of a bully is someone who enjoys dishing it out but then cries foul when the other guy responds in kind. Thank you for your response and printing of my replies. Again, I look forward as always reading your future blogs.

Anonymous said...

On the consultants--this has been going on for a very long time. There are, I believe, at least two issues involved. One is the "good ol' boys" network as others have stated.

The other is that UJC/JFNA will not bring them aboard because they would then have to give them employee benefits, contribute towards their social security, etc. With consultants, they have no such obligation.

As far as extolling AIPAC and harping on our President--Richard, you are living in a vacuum. Have you not heard of the countless former Shin Bet, IDF and Mossad heads who have recently come out against Bibi, saying that what he has been doing is endangering, not enhancing, Israel's security?

That is a critique coming from Israel, mind you. You don't see how Bibi has insulted our President and the Democratic Party over the past 6-7 years? Our President has every reason to really give it to Bibi--is this how someone who receives billions of dollars from this country treats our leader?

The parallels between Bibi and some Republicans and their treatment of our President over the years are quite alarming.

If you don't see the larger picture, you and AIPAC will have a very narrow Jewish base upon which to build support for not just US-Israel relations, but indeed for the American Jewish community.

That is the plain reality--being pro-AIPAC does not define being pro-Israel, not does being pro-Bibi set the acceptable boundaries for what it means to be a Zionist.

RWEX said...

Dear Anon, Thanks for writing...but please see my response to a parallel concern above.

paul jeser said...

Supporters of JStreet have the blood of Israelis on their hands. JStreet is as pro-Israel as the KKK is pro-Black. This year's JStreet conf featured a speaker who doesn't think Israel should be a Jewish State and another speaker famous for saying "F**K THE JEWS." One of JStreet's senior leaders has compared Israel to an addicted drunk! Israel has enough enemies - it is very depressing to know that so many Jews can be counted among those enemies.

RWEX said...

Friends, this is not the direction I had wanted this discussion to take. To all: please moderate your Comments on this issue...or, reluctantly, I will have to

Anonymous said...

Mr. Wexler:

With all due respect, your stance could very well be deemed out of order by many and, more to the point, any JFNA stance supporting this kind of WSJ (or for that matter, ZOA or JINSA) extremist right wing point of view would be highly partisan.

This is unfortunately what Bibi has done--he has gone out of his way to make it increasingly difficult to reach any kind of consensus regarding Israel. For communal groups like JFNA and even for groups like AIPAC that historically have had considerable bipartisan support, this is very bad news indeed.

Other than the predictable ZOA, I didn't see a single major American Jewish organization (other than those that remained silent) that did NOT take Bibi to task in some way over the past month.

If you sincerely wanted JFNA to take such a stand, then you can indeed write off most young American Jews, including those that are quite actively Jewish, as well as a considerable portion of the rest of the Jewish population.

Perhaps some large donors would feel otherwise, but surely they don't reflect the "on the ground" sentiments of most of American Jewry.

RWEX said...

To the last Commentator,

One thing I have learned over my years of involvement, no one can claim to know "the...'on the ground' sentiments of most of American Jewry" -- I don't and, certainly, one cloaked in Anonymity can't either.

If you wish to take off that cloak, then we could have a real conversation.

Anonymous said...

to all of you who are so upset with Bibi's address to Congress, here is a headline from todays Israel Times
"Iran militia chief: Destroying Israel is ‘nonnegotiable’.
Maybe its time to remember whose side the American Jewish community really needs to stand with.

Anonymous said...

White House logs disclosed that JFNA's William Daroff visited the White House 70 times over the Obama years. To what end? Was he shlepping Silverman alongside for some photo ops, some selfies?

Anonymous said...

One small correction. The announced attendance at AIPAC's policy conference was 16,000, not 17,000. According to a very knowledgable source, this was also the actual attendance. No attendance inflation needed.