Apparently … All My Fault

By Richard Wexler

[Editor’s note: It began with Richard Wexler’s post, The Jewish Agency and All of Us. Michael Siegal, The Jewish Agency’s Board Chair responded in At 90 years, The Jewish Agency for Israel is as Relevant Today as it’s Ever Been. And today, Wexler responds to the response.

Any further commentary on this subject is restricted to the comment sections of the three posts.]

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Michael Siegal, who has sequentially led Israel Bonds, the Jewish Federations of North America and, now, The Jewish Agency, read my post, The Jewish Agency and All of Us, in eJewishPhilanthropy. It angered him. I had hoped that my opinion piece would inspire dialogue (see the Comments to the article) and introspection; instead it inspired Michael’s anger and a fatuous extrospection that made clear that, in the view of the Agency’s leadership, the organization is beyond criticism while claiming to welcome it.

Siegel’s attempt at rejoinder, At 90 Years, The Jewish Agency Is As Relevant As It’s Ever Been, was as preposterous as his article’s headline. Can anyone really believe that the JAFI of today “… is as relevant as it’s ever been.” I mean … really? As relevant as, say: mean it was the pre-State State, or when it led the post-Independence aliyah from across the world, or when it was World Jewry’s partner in Operation Exodus, in the rescue of the Ethiopian Jewish community … really? 

It did not require my brief article to expose the reality of how JAFI is viewed by its funders today. One needed only to have looked at the allocations to JAFI’s core budget from the federations and from Keren Ha’Yesod – allocations that year-by-year-by-year, time and again, have reached their lowest points in 20 years. But looking at those numbers and asking “why?” and, then, confronting the answers, are harder, apparently, than attacking the “messenger.” 

Here is how the Agency Board Chair described JAFI’s current priorities: “Today, our main areas of impact are connecting Jews worldwide, bringing world Jewry’s voice and impact to Israeli society, enabling Aliyah of both choice and rescue, and ensuring the safety of Jewish communities.”

Inspired? Are these purposes which the Jewish Agency is best positioned to lead?

And, Michael attacked me.

I was accused of writing out of “personal animus and frustration” toward and with The Jewish Agency. That is not and has never been the case. Any fair reading of my columns over the past decade(+) knows that I have been a public, constant and fervid advocate for JAFI – most often criticized for my support. To now accuse me of “personal animus and frustration” is just a sad example of a thin-skinned leadership that “doth protest too much.” 

So, I was wrong. I had hoped that my post might create dialogue; instead I received a diatribe that, in so many ways, made my case for me.

More’s the pity.

Richard Wexler is a Past Chair of the United Israel Appeal, the United Jewish Appeal and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, among other leadership roles.