World Jewish News
Olim arrive in Israel with Nefesh B'Nefesh, August 13, 2013. Photo: Sasson Tiram
Jewish Federations of North America backtrack on critique of Israel's immigration plan
The Jewish Federations of North America backtracked on its criticism of the Israeli government’s new immigration promotion program on Monday, less than a day after the measure was passed by the cabinet.
The establishment of a new private corporation to oversee the promotion of Jewish immigration from Europe was initially seen as a blow to the Jewish Agency by senior JFNA officials, who wrote a harsh letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu after an early draft of the plan was leaked to the media.
The corporation will be jointly owned by JAFI and the World Zionist Organization and overseen by a steering committee comprised of two representatives of JAFI, two from the WZO, one from Keren Hayesod and five from the Ministry of Aliya and Absorption. The Director General of the Ministry of Aliya and Absorption will be the chair of the body and will have the right to break any tie during voting.
Writing to the Netanyahu, senior Federation officials, including JFNA CEO Jerry Silverman, complained that the plan would damage JAFI and end its exclusive responsibility for the handling of immigration.
“Aliya is a central part of our fundraising mission in support of Israel and the Jewish Agency. It is a cornerstone of the Diaspora- Israel relationship and the efforts of building global Jewish identity with Israel at its center,” they wrote.
According to the Federations, its “efforts to support Israel, the Jewish Agency in particular and the programs of aliya are in jeopardy if the agreement…comes to pass.”
Since the story came to light, many local Federations had contacted the JFNA, asking why they should continue financially supporting the Jewish Agency, the letter stated.
The agency, “must continue to be the exclusive body to deal with aliya” and any changes to that status “will have dire consequences for our collective efforts to support our work,” the JFNA demanded.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post on Monday, however, Silverman changed his tune, stating that his organization’s position had “changed to a positive point of view.”
According to Silverman, the JFNA’s initial concerns that there would be a “separate company” not under the control of the Jewish Agency and that the long-standing role of the Zionist institution would be diminished were proven unfounded Sunday.
“What we said…very clearly is that we absolutely and strongly still support aliyah in working with the Jewish Agency and the Jewish Agency has a convent with the State of Israel,” he said. “the new resolution from yesterday completely clarified that in the company would be owned by the Jewish Agency and the WZO and it clarified that they would the owners and that we would continue to be fundraisers for this significant investment in aliyah.”
Silverman said that he was thrilled that Sunday’s resolution clarified that JAFI was still the “government’s partner in delivering aliyah and we will continue to invest significantly.”
The plan approved by the cabinet named the JFNA as one of the bodies, together with the Jewish Agency and Keren Hayesod, exclusively authorized to raise supplemental funds beyond the initial government appropriate of sixty million shekels for the project, which will be split between the new corporation and the Ministry of Aliya and Absorption.
While the Federation system still injects significant capital into the Jewish Agency every year, the fiscal relationship between the two bodies changed significantly in 2011 when the JFNA decided to no longer funnel all of its funds intended for disbursement overseas exclusively through JAFI and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
However, the Federations are still a major source of money for the Jewish Agency, which “through fundraising that the federations, do is investing over 50 million dollars already in aliyah” this year, Silverman said.
Asked about media reports that the new initiative was the result of a push by the Ministry of Aliya and Absorption to gain control of immigration, Silverman said he thought that “all of these theories are just that, theories.”
“Partnering with the Ministry,” he concluded, is a case of “one plus one equal three and that’s the way it should be.”
By SAM SOKOL