Saturday, December 10, 2016


I know better than most that the federations' lay and professional leaders who should (and even do) know better, should be doing something/anything about the real crises in our organizational lives. Instead they are hiding behind narishkeit, or doing absolutely nothing when bold actions are called for. Case in point: the Jewish Agency for Israel and its continued control by a competitor, the World Zionist Organization.

A few weeks ago I wrote:
"You are such perceptive followers of this Blog. In response to the Post on WZO, one of you (G-d, I wish it hadn't been anonymously) pointed out the reality that as the WZO has decided to go into direct competition with the Jewish Agency, its continuing control (through its own voting rights and the voting control it maintains over Keren Ha'Yesod) of JAFI'S ultimate governance is a blatant conflict of interest that can only be resolved, in this writer's opinion, by the withdrawal by WZO from the governance and affairs of the Jewish Agency. 

And, where, if anywhere, might the impetus for such a movement arise? From JFNA? Maybe in another lifetime. From KH? Maybe in another lifetime (although KH leaders have, over time, demonstrated periodic evidence of thought and action that suggest that they might stand tall. Unfortunately, KH, even more so than JFNA/federations, has almost ceased, on a relative basis, its "free dollar" funding (undesignated) of the Jewish Agency.

All of this suggests a stasis that plays directly into the hands of the apparachniks at WZO. Exactly what they expected."
Then one of you wrote: 
"You are absolutely correct about the conflict of interest in WZO involvement in the Jewish Agency governance (which, by the way, we brought upon ourselves).
It is going to get worse and worse and it will end badly unless we reorganize the Agency's governance structure as soon as possible.
Those who contribute should be in control - certainly not those that contribute nothing and attempt to undercut and compete with the organization.
This should be an urgent action item for JFNA and KH - for all who want to build the Jewish Agency rather than allow it to be destroyed by political manipulators.
And who might lead this effort? Is there anyone....anyone at all? (The Sandler/Silverman duo once again exercised their leadership by writing WZO about its malfeasance in refusing to fund Holocaust survivor efforts. Not only did they not receive a response; they weren't even aware that they had not received a response when asked.) One might expect that someone might have the courage to resist the temptation to continue to do nothing; but there is nothing on the record as I write this today that suggests that anyone would want to be "bothered." So, I will..

Charles Bronfman, whom I am certain, had he not grown disenchanted with JFNA and our system while he served as the inaugural Board Chair, would have led this effort. It was Charles who wrote: "“this might sound like the rumination of an old geezer, there is something to be said for having a few wrinkles and battle scars.” I think I qualify, at least by age, personality and battle scars, if nothing else.

After the Comment above, there flowed a literal torrent of Comments strongly weighted toward criticism of alleged secret, politicized actions of JAFI, points and counter-points with regard to the Jewish Agency's viability. When I was elected the Chair of the Chicago Federation, I explained to my predecessor, the inestimable Corky Goodman, that as I was still fully employed as a land use lawyer, I needed guidance as to where I should focus my efforts and time. I will never forget when Corky replied: "Whatever you do, just don't get involved with the Jewish Agency; it is too complex and impenetrable." I remembered that somewhat ironically a little over a decade later when Corky, who had assumed the Chairmanship of JAFI, asked me to join him in his effort to move the Jewish Agency through a series of critical reforms. 

I joined that effort. At leadership's urging I served for years as the "Diaspora Co-Chair" of the JAFI Israel Department Committee. I had a wonderful partner, named by WZO, who, until the implementation of reforms, was a full-time "Co-Chair;" spending long days at the Sachnut, working on Israel Department matters. I found it impossible, from 7,000 miles away, to be an effective "partner" -- in fact, I was not a "partner" at all. Committee agendas were set without my input (except after the fact); meetings scheduled without my input. At one and the same time, thanks to fine pros within the reformed Department, we effected financial reforms, gained budget transparency and gave Committee members a sense that they were engaged on substance. This was true in other areas of JAFI's work -- thanks to a succession of professional Director Generals -- serious men (they were all men) of integrity, indefatigable and often frustrated by the Chairs of the Executive whom they served, all of whom, other than Natan Sharansky, serving simultaneously  as the Chairs of the World Zionist Organization.

I recall three moments in time, during my service on the JAFI Board and Executive Committee, when we in Diaspora Jewry had the opportunity to effect real change within the Jewish Agency that would have eliminated the WZO from its direct control of the Agency. This first came in the late 90's at a meeting in New York City attended by JAFI, WZO and American Jewish leadership. Our demands for reform were on the table -- the WZO would be paid to go away, relinquishing its roles in JAFI governance. Ambassador Sallai Meridor, beloved to so many of us, passionate Zionist leader, asked that before the ultimate vote if he could meet with the American leadership in private. There Sallai pled with us on a very personal basis that any vote to divest WZO be delayed until after the upcoming Zionist Assembly  -- that Assembly was still six months or more away. And we agreed. The meeting broke up and we never met again on this subject.

About five years later, when my friend, Richie Pearlstone was JAFI Chair, that Richie and Jay Sarver, then the JAFI Budget & Finance Chair, entered into discussions with Joe Kanfer and Kathy Manning on ridding the Agency of the WZO. Joe was particularly interested. A plan developed -- we would present WZO constituencies -- Rabbinic, Zionist Movement, Hadassah -- with a plan that would preserve their perquisites while eliminating the WZO "ownership" role. Everyone was on board, enthusiastically as I recall. We scheduled our first meeting with the Rabbinic Movement leadership. Meeting in one of this sub-sub basement conference rooms at the Inbal, the room was packed with the rabbinic leadership. Before we could explain the embryonic plan, and without knowing any of the particulars, the Rabbis, many our close friends, attacked us with a zeal they rarely displayed at JAFI meetings. Joe Kanfer quickly turned tail (he may have ended up arguing against the plan as well). This plan was never discussed again.

And, then, not much later, Pearlstone appointed Jane Sherman to lead a "negotiation" with WZO. Jane, an incredible philanthropist in her own right, joined with Cleveland's Steve Hoffman, in some form of "negotiations" with WZO, the results of which, to oversimplify, set JAFI and WZO up for where they are today -- WZO still controls close to 70% of the voting members on the JAFI Board, received millions in cash and stock (the "golden shares" of which have paid WZO millions in dividends, and allowed it to ignore pleas to assist Holocaust survivors) and gave up -- that was all -- the Chair of the JAFI Executive. WZO now not only continues to control a super-majority of seats on the JAFI Board but directly competes with the Jewish Agency...everywhere. It should be noted that when Sherman and Hoffman first presented this "settlement" to the Jewish Agency, Jane demanded it be approved "without amendment or the deal will fail." So much for "negotiation." (At first, even resisting correcting typos for fear of killing the "deal.")

And, so, here is where we are today. WZO in undeniable direct conflict of interest with the Jewish Agency yet still controlling the votes within JAFI. And no one doing anything at all about it. 

Great leadership.



Anonymous said...

It is all such a joke. Just get rid of both WZO and JAFI

Israeli political parties used jobs in Zionist institutions as political plums for their members.

The secret agreement signed by political parties and movements to distribute jobs in Zionist institutions reached at last week's World Zionist Congress shows that the jobs were given out according to the relative strengths of each party. The Yesh Atid Party, headed by MK Yair Lapid, the only party that did not sign the agreement, yesterday demanded exposure of the deal at the Knesset Special Committee for the Transparency and Accessibility of Government Information, but committee chairman Stav Shafir rejected the demand, accusing Yesh Atid of cooperation in the transferal of hundreds of millions of shekels to the World Zionist Organization settlement division without transparency. Signers of the agreement include representatives of Likud, Zionist Union, Yisrael Beitenu, the Mizrahi movement (formerly the National Religious Party), Shas, and Kulanu, headed by Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon.

The copy of the agreement obtained by "Globes" shows that the Labor Party, together with Meretz, obtained the posts of Jewish National Fund (JNF) chairman (MK Daniel Atar was elected), head of the Zionist enterprises department in the Jewish Agency, and head of the education department, which is responsible for many activities of overseas emissaries and the budgets for the Reform and Conservative movements. Likud and Shas are keeping the posts of Jewish Agency chairman (occupied by Natan Sharansky), vice-chairman of the World Zionist Organization, and a list of positions in overseas public relations and the struggle against anti-Semitism.

The Mizrahi movement, together with Yisrael Beitenu and the National Union Party, received the positions of World Zionist Organization chairman, head of the settlement division (now the responsibility of Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Uri Ariel), JNF vice-chairman, the Diaspora Orthodox spiritual services apparatus, and the department for encouraging Aliya (immigration to Israel).


Zionist Union MK elected JNF chairman

Efi Stenzler
Political battle at Zionist Congress to head JNF

The agreement shows that Kulanu, which was taking part in these negotiations for the first time, was responsible for the election of former Minister and MK Uzi Landau as JNF co-chairman during the negotiations between the political parties. The agreement also includes a precise list of the jobs reserved for the parties. For example, Shas International is getting the vice-chairmanship of JNF, Likud International - vice-chairmanship of JNF responsible for the financial committee, Labor Party - chairmanship of the Spielberg archives, and Labor Party, Mizrahi, and Likud - directors in the JNF asset company.

The agreement contains a special clause for additional funding for the institutions' activity. This budget comes from JNF's income on the sale of its land by the Israel Land Authority. It was stipulated that by 2021, JNF would give the institutions NIS 69 million a year, and would add a further NIS 18 million a year when their spheres of activity are expanded, for example in order to pay for the events celebrating the 120th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on October 29, 2015

RWEX said...


Many thanks to the correspondents. The question is: why do the institutions of America Jewry and their leaders have no interest in any of these realities? And, of course, these "thing" are nothing new; I am as guilty as anyone is today.

Dan Brown said...

Why, Richard? Very simple. The leadership of American Jewry has, for decades, built a firewall around the Israeli government, the PM et al, and the institutions of the state (specifically JAFI/WZO/KKL). Leadership has historically refused to challenge [in any serious way] Israel's political elite. That's unlikely to change anytime soon.

Anonymous said...

This firewall is far worse.

It is around the corrupt institutions that prop up the parties and their minions.

paul jeser said...

And... why will anyone overseas listen? Back in the day the Fed system forwarded the significant majority of funds raised overseas and, thus, had clout. Today, the % of funds supporting these institutions (no Fed $ goes to KKL/Israel)has been drastically reduced.

Anonymous said...

The conclusion is that JFNA should not be a beard for these corrupt parties and institutions.

We should lobby for their end, with any vital functions being absorbed into their proper role within the Israeli government.

Just google "JAFI and pension fund" and be thankful you can't do it in Hebrew where you would get twenty-fold the results.

Anonymous said...

Richard, if the Chicago and NY Federations said "enough" it would be over. Period.

Anonymous said...

If only!

JAFI is the only agency that gets unrestricted funds in such large amounts.

It is protected by all the "old money Brahmins" on the board that love to hobnob with their fellow Governors while the wool is being pulled over their eyes.

And their vaunted programs like college shlichim? Do we really need to send money to Jerusalem for a 50% JAFI tax local organizations on campus, be they StandwithUs, David Project or any of 20 others, are more effective, more in touch and much much cheaper.

It is time for the rank and file to end this massive misuse of Federation funds.

RWEX said...

I want to thank all of you for the intelligent and focused discussion.

Anonymous said...

There is a big difference between JAFI and KKL or the WZO. One shouldn't lump them together into one category and just call them corrupt and dismiss them as such.
KKL is very political and indeed needs serious reform.
The WZO is also highly political by its very nature and indeed has no business being involved today in the governance of the Jewish Agency, especially since it has begun competing with it programmatically.
Although the Jewish Agency was once very political, today it is not at all. It has become an independent NGO and exhibits a high level of professionalism, accountability and transparency. It is no longer governed by political parties and interests as it once was.
Many commentators and critics of the Jewish Agency are basing their views on historical stereotypes, most of which are no longer valid and do not reflect today's reality.

Anonymous said...

Back to the main message of Richard's post.
We must act to get the WZO out of JAFI governance and the sooner the better.
JFNA must work with KH leadership to free the Agency and themselves of the WZO and its political agendas and patronage. We must forcefully demand that JFNA do so.
An organization that contributes nothing cannot be an equal partner with organizations that raise and provide most of the core and designated budget.

Dan Brown said...

Arguably the Jewish Agency "exhibits a high level of professionalism, accountability and transparency." But today's reality includes the simple fact that present leadership has moved the organization backwards. This is the legacy today's senior professionals and lay leaders leave in their wake. And, not to be left out, senior federation professionals and lay leaders bear significant culpability for JAFI's present state.

RWEX said...

We received this Comment from Daniel Allen, the immediate Past Vice Chair and CEO of United Israel Appeal:

While I appreciate Richard's raising the issue of the governance of the Jewish Agency, perhaps it is the wrong issue. In some ways it is fighting the last war. A question that should be addressed by our "system" is why do we need to fund two agencies that increasingly are doing similar work; The Jewish Agency and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee( JDC). In the run up to the creation of the UJC( I was one of the then three CEO's charged with the work) a proposal was made to radically change the organizational landscape. Merge JDC and JAFI( at least the part that we paid for through the UIA) into a new enterprise. Yes, there would be places at the table for American Zionist organizations and the religious movements. Yes there would need to be some connection with the Government of Israel. It was less likely that the WZO in its then or current form would have been invited to participate.

It was a good idea then and a better idea today. Move the UIA out of JFNA as the American authority for the Jewish Agency, then UIA and JDC can emerge together as a new American enterprise serving the needs of Jews in Israel and around the globe. We an tell the ISrael Government that their continued use of JAFI as a fig leaf for Jewish religious oppression will no longer serve our donors, and we can get on with the work of building an ever stronger Jewish people here and in Israel.

Rabbi Daniel Allen, UIA Executive Vice Chairman Emeritus

Anonymous said...


Are you suggesting that you merge a US managed and regulated 501c3, the JDC, with am impeccable record and complete transparency, with the bureaucratic and byzantine apparatchik agency JAFI?


And don't your concerns about JAFI being a "fig leaf" pail in comparison with the corporate governance issues which, contrary to anon 11:25 AM, are replete and unabated?

Don't you think it is time to just lobby for the demise of JAFI (and KKL and WZO)?

Anonymous said...