Senior Jewish Agency officials wrote to members of their board of governors on Wednesday to refute allegations that the Zionist organization was being cut out of the government’s new Diaspora outreach initiative.
In a letter distributed to the press on Tuesday, Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry Director-General Dvir Kahana wrote Diaspora leaders informing them of new developments regarding the initiative. He laid out a newly diminished role for the agency, which has been involved in planning the multi-billion dollar effort since the beginning.
“First, I’d like to be clear – on the Israeli side and throughout this startup period, the government through the Ministry for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs is overseeing the establishment of the initiative and is currently serving as the convener for the initiative,” he wrote.
Thanking the Jewish Agency for its role, Kahana said that the government is “continuing [its] dialogue with the agency with the aim of finding the best way for it to fit into a role within the initiative” and that “like with all our potential partners, we will work with the Jewish Agency to create a formidable and long-lasting partnership within the initiative.”
Within a day JAFI Chairman Natan Sharansky, Director-General Alan Hoffman, and other senior agency officials wrote to their board, countering that “some of the statements and the spirit in the letter contradict the position of the government of Israel.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stated the government’s position during a meeting between agency and government officials in late June, Sharansky stated. He added that on Tuesday the Jewish Agency executive had passed a resolution proposing a set of pilot programs for the initiative.
The Jewish Federations of North America, a member of the executive and an important North American partner for the initiative, declined to comment on Kahana’s letter.
In passing the resolution, Sharansky told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, the Jewish Agency had ““acted in accordance with the prime minister’s request” and that it would “continue to serve as the convener of the Jewish people for this initiative, just as the Ministry of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs serves as the convener of the government of Israel.”
During the planning stages, the primary movers behind the undertaking were said to be a triumvirate of public figures: Hoffman, Kahana, and the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Harel Locker.
In June, the cabinet approved an initial budget of NIS 187 million that is expected to be matched on a twoto- one basis by Diaspora communities.
In 2016, after the corporation is fully up and running, the government is expected to call for an annual budget of NIS 800 million.
The initiative, aimed at stemming the tide of assimilation and forging stronger bonds between Diaspora Jews and Israel, was first revealed at a Jewish Agency-convened summit of international Jewish leaders in Jerusalem last November.
“The lack of clarity on this issue is concerning. The question should not be about the ego of the agency or the government of Israel, but how best to increase the Jewish identity and affiliation with Israel across the Jewish world,” one member of the agency’s board of governors told the Post on condition of anonymity.
“While the Jewish Agency has its challenges, I would question whether the government on its own has the background and expertise to be successful,” the board member said.
“Alternatively, this may be down to a lack of confidence in the agency coming through with the money. We all deserve a fully transparent explanation.”
According to Dan Brown, editor of eJewishPhilanthropy, the recent surge in American Jewish donations related to the Ukrainian civil war and to Israel’s Operation Protective Edge may have an impact on short-term giving to projects associated with the government initiative. The government has made Diaspora contributions a cornerstone of the project and expects a ratio of two shekels from abroad for every one in tax revenue it contributes to the project.
The Prime Minister’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.