Tuesday, September 27, 2016


The knowledgeable free-lance journalist, Sam Sokol, recently raised the question of what will become of the Jewish Agency for Israel after our hero, Natan Sharansky's retirement as its Chair of the Executive. http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/jewish-agencys-future-in-question-with-sharanskys-departure/?utm_source=Tue+Sept+20n**&utm_campaign=Tue+Sept+20&utm_medium=email

Sokol has asked the right question about JAFI's future post-Sharansky but there are other factors at work at one and the same time:

  1. Chuck Ratner, the passionate and constant supporter and leader as Board Chair of the Jewish Agency, the lay partner of both Sharansky and Alan Hoffmann, will be retiring from his position at the same time; and
  2. Alan Hoffmann, the long-serving professional leader of the Jewish Agency, its Director General, has also reached retirement age.
  3. Rany Training, the long-serving Deputy Chair of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, will leave at the end of his terms.
Thus, at one and the same time, JAFI's four top leaders will leave the organization at the same time. And, instead of introspection and examination of what would be in the organization's best interests going forward -- that is in the mutual best interest of JAFI and American Jewry, "stuff" like this is happening:
  1. Some are suggesting that the immediate past Chair of JFNA and a Past International Chair of Israel Bonds, with close ties to Bibi but no apparent interest or engagement in JAFI, succeed Chuck Ratner;
  2. The lay Chair of JFNA-Israel, engaged (if that's the word) in JAFI for less than one year, is said to be working the shadows and the hallways urging that a former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, with no current (or, apparently, past) engagement with JAFI whatsoever, succeed Natan (probably in the new JFNA tradition of "the blind leading the blind").  Few remember apparently that the last time American federation and, then, lay leaders manipulated the Executive Chair selection process, the result was Avrum Burg. How did that turn out?
  3. Maybe someone should introduce JFNA leaders to Aaron Abramovich, a leader of unquestioned integrity, and, clearly not a politician, who might be just the person to maintain ("restore"?) confidence in the Jewish Agency were he to succeed Alan Hoffmann.
But nowhere...not anywhere...are North America Jewish leaders of JAFI sitting together to reach consensus on what, if anything, JAFI should be at this time of greater internal change at the Agency. UIA, which might be best positioned to convene this discussion, seems stuck in place, unable to do anything beyond its vetting dwindling allocations and issuing inane "UIA Presents" reprints of others' works and words. JFNA's leaders are seemingly "too busy to be diverted by another distraction."

And, where might JFNA be? Well, maybe the ever-bloated JFNA-Israel staff has made its leaders aware of these transitions. In a managed environment, that same staff would have already prepared an environmental scan of the roles JAFI plays and how JFNA might influence the decisions to come as well as the personnel changes. 

Let's hold our collective breath...



Anonymous said...

Does Sam Sokal really think that either Rabbi Eckstein's ego-centered operations or Naftali Bennet's politically driven initiatives - regardless of the fact that they have lots of money- can compete with the role that the Jewish Agency has filled and will continue to fill in the history of our people?
Yes, the Agency's top leadership will be changing over the next year but that is not necessarily a bad thing.
On the other hand, Richard is correct that things will turn out badly if the American Jewish Community and our partners through Keren Hayesod from the rest of the world do not actively involve themselves in the transition of leadership.
If the selection of the new Agency leadership is left to the Israeli political system (or to American JFNA organizational politics, which can be just as bad!) the Agency will suffer and our work in Israel and connection with Israel will suffer along with it.
This is the time for strong North American leaders to stand up and make sure that the new leadership of our Jewish Agency is the most qualified team possible to work on our behalf in strengthening Israel and our own communities along with Israel.
It's OK to be pessimistic about that but we can always hope and pray to be pleasantly surprised.

Dan Brown said...

The Jewish Agency, like the WZO and KKL, are organizations built for another period of time. None of the 3 are equipped to effectively operate in the 21st Century.

Until such time as The Agency is able to change the "rules of engagement" (meaning its relationship with the Government and the political hacks that come along with it) even a strong JFNA/American leadership (one can always hope) is doomed to playing, at best, a supporting role in today's Jewish world.

Anonymous said...

Richard, as you've identified it, this is a time that in another era, the strength of American Jewry would have been self-evident in the role it could and would play in the governance transition at the Jewish Agency. But you dwell in the past -- today with allocations having nose-dived and the quality of American leadership so diminished as well, all there can be will be the special pleading for the favored few who will be patted on their heads as the inner circle dooms JAFI to further irrelevance.