Elephants in the Jewish Agency Room

The winter meetings of the Jewish Agency (JAFI) Board of Governors opened this morning in Jerusalem. The 3-day agenda is packed, with issues ranging from religious pluralism in Israel to rekindling the love between young Jews all over the world and Israel; from the broadest geopolitics to the internal strategy and management of the organization.

The morning meeting was notable on several fronts, including the recognition by many of the speakers of the “elephant in the room” as related to recent media criticism of JAFI. In fact, in his opening remarks, Natan Sharansky – JAFI’s chair of the executive – addressed the issue head on by stating “the Jewish Agency is about Aliyah.” Turning around recent media stories, Sharansky added, “as to the articles in the press about our strategic plan, I’m glad people are finally paying attention!”

Board chair James Tisch, presiding over his first board meeting held in Israel, spoke forcefully about the Agency’s need to build their own FRD operation, independent of their partners. Saying that “the benefits will not be seen immediately, not even during my term,” Tisch stressed the long-term value of the new FRD initiatives and, at the same time, dismissed the critics of current compensation levels saying “you get what you pay for.”

Tisch also picked up on several themes often emphasized by his predecessor, Richie Pearlstone, including the need for board members to make independent gifts to JAFI. Zeroing in on what has been a historical problem, Tisch concluded his morning remarks stating, “We all represent the Jewish Agency and must act in the best interests of the Jewish Agency. We need to drop off at the door our responsibilities to other organizations.”

A different elephant in the room was addressed by Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs, MK Yuli Edelstein. Speaking of the tensions expressed in the media concerning Israel and the Diaspora along with various stories on the changed focus of JAFI, Edelstein emphasized “there is no crisis in the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora and there is no crisis between the Government of Israel and the Jewish Agency.”

Separately, the Jewish Agency today announced a $2m. gift from Noble Energy to the Jewish Agency managed Youth Futures Program. The donation targets programs in Beersheva, Lod, Ofakim and Safed. Bini Zomer, Noble’s director of corporate affairs for Noble Energy in Israel, told eJP, “Noble Energy is committed to unlocking human resources in addition to natural resources.”