Friday, October 28, 2016


Recently I wrote WHY?, a Post on JFNA's secret contract with the marketing/communications firm SS+K as a conduit on behalf of a secret donor. I commented there on the rank stupidity of a small group of JFNA lay and professional leaders to enter into a contract neither the terms of which nor the parties thereto could be revealed. It was on the same date that that Post was published that I received a call from  Debra Nussbaum Cohen, a free-lance reporter and a regular contributor to Haaretz. She called to ask if I had any insights into why JFNA was holding a Board meeting by conference call the next day but excluding Honorary Board members from the call for reasons of "confidentiality." I was unaware of the meeting but as Debra read the Memo (which she received from an invitee to the meeting) I explained that, perhaps, there was some fear that Marvin Lender or Joel Tauber, Conrad Giles or Jane Sherman (just joking -- we all know to whom the exclusion was addressed) would spread the news of  the purpose of the call and its results to the rest of the World -- as those of us who serve as Honorary Trustees include the past Chairs of the merging organizations -- UIA, CJF and UJA. Of course I knew to whom the exclusion was directed -- and it was none of those named above. 

And, as in so many things JFNA, the call for the meeting was deceptive:
"The Board will be asked to authorize this change in policy for IAN missions including the upcoming mission scheduled to depart New York on October 30, 2016. The Board will also be asked to authorize the entry of JFNA missions, including federation community missions planned through JFNA, into Israeli-controlled territories beyond the Green Line (e.g., Ariel or Gush Etzion, etc.)"
That Mission leaving 4 days after the meeting? Its Itinerary,  prepared long before the Board meeting, includes a visit to Ramallah the "capitol" of "Palestine" not a "Jewish settlement" at all. "Oh, maybe we forgot to mention it."  But the reality is that JFNA's gaggle of leaders just buried that headline -- "we're going to Ramallah" -- out of their constant fear that telling the truth, the whole truth, about anything, would be too much for federation leaders to contemplate. It's an insulting and deprecating attitude of unearned superiority -- and a constant one. So, an entire elected Board of Jewish communal leaders was summoned to a conference call meeting to discuss missions "...into Israeli-controlled territories beyond the Green Line" only to learn that they had somehow approved a Mission going to the claimed capitol of "Palestine." 

And, after the meeting, JFNA issued a press release that stated:
“Today the JFNA Board of Trustees approved a number of appropriate and necessary protocols to support the advocacy and education trips of the IAN. This vote ensures that IAN will continue to travel to Israel and the surrounding areas, not historically visited by JFNA staff. We are pleased the board reaffirmed the ability of IAN to continue this mission-critical work.” (emphasis added)
read more:
At the end of the day, the JFNA Board was summoned to a secret meeting that had only to do with Israel Action Network Missions but not those of the communities or JFNA itself? This all makes so little sense. Perhaps, Richard Sandler, putting on his kippah as By-Laws Chair, would like to revisit the importance of having an Executive Committee -- then Honorary Trustees wouldn't have to be excluded and 155 federations need not be called to a Board meeting. But, as we know, JFNA never looks back...just as it never looks forward.

And why were "Honorary Trustees" excluded from the meeting? As the Memo stated:
"Only voting trustees will be invited to participate as the issues under discussion are deemed privileged information."
Indeed..."deemed" by whom, exactly? And by what criteria? And what are the criteria for whom is to be excluded and when?

Now Nussbam Cohen has written her story the day after the "secretive meeting," as she described it in Haaretz, In Historic Shift, Jewish Federation Representatives To Now Visit Israeli Settlements. The veil of attempted secrecy has been lifted and revealed...mirabile dictu, there was no reason for secrecy in the first place. The secrecy attached to the meeting was dictated by fear of small controversies; the same reason, it appears, that the purpose and parties to the Klarman/JFNA/SS+K conduit contract was hidden. 

The entire discussion must have appealed to JFNA's false sense of self-importance. After all, today, unlike pre-merger, far more communities are sending their Missions without any input from JFNA than with it -- in fact, it's fair to say, JFNA neither knows how many Israel Missions are in the country from North American Communities nor what their itineraries are.

I tried to answer Debra's questions about the substance of the Board call, since revealed* -- whether JFNA-sponsored community missions and JFNA-arranged tours should visit settlement towns and areas in Judea and Samaria, and Palestinian cities as it turns out -- but I was admittedly distracted by this reality:

JFNA is more and more transitioning from public charity to secret society. Sunlight is being shut out on an ad hoc basis at the whim of its CEO and Board Chairs
A public charity doesn't execute secret contracts, it doesn't exclude from meetings for any reason, let alone no reason, those mandated by governance (elected or honorary, it makes no difference) to attend (and who are, by governance, required to get notice of meetings). I believe that the operative words her are: secret, whim and ad hoc. Were I not an Honorary Board Member but an elected one I would be pondering, "if they've excluded, e.g., Wexler, when are they going to exclude me?" But, of course, they already have, haven't they -- secret contracts, secret consultant fees, secrets small and large. In point of fact, secrecy in the work of a public charity is no more becoming JFNA than has been the secrecy insisted upon by President-elect Hillary Clinton (and the Clinton Foundation appears to understand the openness required of a public charity better than does JFNA). 

And, in the instance of this secret Board meeting, perhaps there was concern that, inasmuch as those of us being excluded are among the few who participated and even led Missions that incorporated visits to settlement developments in Judea and Samaria. Perhaps there was fear that we would have opinions (and, certainly, more knowledge) on the subject that might conflict with those who proposed this agenda item's narrative (G-d forbid) and might express those informed opinions. I know that I believe that I was a better-educated and informed leader after being exposed to the passion and religious fervor in some instances of the settlers back in the day (or exposed to the cynicism of some who settled in those regions because they were so heavily subsidized by a succession of Israeli governments to do so). How does a leader who is denied access to the arguments in situ respond to the claims that "settlements are an obstacle to peace" unless one has listened to the arguments of those who are there, digested them and sorted through them to form one's own opinion. JFNA appears to place no value...none...on leaders' "own opinions."

But, I digress. As I told the senior JFNA Officer who called me after I wrote Richard Sandler the following: "I just received a call from a reporter who informed me of tomorrow's meeting for 'voting Trustees only.' This doesn't strike me as an action that grown ups would take" -- this is not the action that a mature organization would take. I reminded him of LBJ's mantra: "I want this guy on the inside pissing out; not on the outside pissing in." But I also lamented the fact that JFNA has become an organization so lacking in a belief in the rectitude of its own acts that it conducts them in either absolute -- consultant contracts, employment contracts -- or relative secrecy; and that's just impermissible...PERIOD, FULL STOP.

JFNA is more and more transitioning from public charity to secret society. Sunlight is being shut out on an ad hoc basis at the whim of its CEO and Board Chair.
Is this the kind of organization the federations really wish to continue to throw good/bad money after bad?  Really?


* Ironic is it not that Debra Nussbaum Cohen's unnamed source was an elected JFNA Trustee?


Dan Brown said...

For those who want to read Debra's article:

Anonymous said...

Not sure what all of the hubbub is about. I was on a Federation Family Mission way back in the mid 80s which included a visit to Efrat in the West Bank.

Anonymous said...

When you're doing nothing, you tend to make a hub about everything. First, Richard, these leaders need to apologize for the secrecy in which they wrapped this discussion about nothing. Second, my specific recollection is that the supposed "ban" on Mission visits beyond the Green Line had to do with insurance, or the lack of insurance, not with any philosophy. Leave it to Silverman and Sandler to make this mole hill into a mountain without ever answering the question: got insurance?

Anonymous said...

I don't know if Anon 8:41 is correct or whether such visits were barred because they might be deemed "political" and jeopardize JFNA's tax status or the tax deductibility of our donations, but I do know this: there is nobody at JFNA who could possibly articulate the reasons such travel was banned and, therefore, why lifting the ban would be OK?

Do these people ever understand the reasons for what they're doing or what they propose to do? And with this leadership, they never will.

paul jeser said...

So - my ongoing question...

When will there be a meeting of those who beleive change is needed to develop a process.

Anonymous said...

Richard, give them a break, they don't know what they're doing and never do never will

Anonymous said...

One thing is certainly not a secret -- JFNA as it currently exists is a total joke, just repackaging old wine in old bottles, calling it new and then congratulating itself as if it has made a discovery of something special. Earth to Richard Sandler -- wake up and do something. Show us you have a pulse even if the organization you Chair doesn't'

Anonymous said...

Isn't it obvious to everyone by now that Richard Sandler is not going to do anything to alter the status-quo?
And to Anon 5:45, you are being generous with your 'just repackaging old wine in old bottles''s more like wine in a box.

Anonymous said...

Why wouldn't you refer the issues relating to disclosure and conflicts around the consultants to the New York State Attorney General's charities bureau?

Here is another problem with JFNA:
Their lay leadership are poor examples if not negative examples for the Jewish community. The mother of this mixed marriage bride is the chair of the GA. Why would anyone possibly go to hear her?

Anonymous said...

Separately, can I suggest that you try to refrain from posting on Shabbat and Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashanah

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you would allow a comment such as the 8:00pm anonymous. Ad hominem attacks on the children of Federation leaders should be totally beyond the pale. Shame on the poster.

RWEX said...

My apologies. I failed to read the link before allowing the Comment in question. The last Comment is absolutely correct.

RWEX said...

To the Commentator who continues to send Comments that demand that there be a religious test for leadership that goes so far as to demand that if one has a child who intermarries, the parents are thereby disqualified from leadership roles: your further Comments on the subject will not be published just as your last attempt was rejected.

As I have written before, this is my Blog, and I will decide whether Comments are reasonable and responsible. Yours are not and I regret having published your first two. There will be no more.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Sandler believes that JFNA, a PUBLIC CHARITY, owes no greater responsibility to the Federations that the Milken Foundation, a PRIVATE CHARITY, owes the public. Maybe he's just confused