Despite a steady and significant decline in its budget, the leader of one of the
biggest Jewish NGOs in the world on Sunday said it would expand its operations.
Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky said that over the next few years, his
outfit would send more emissaries to countries overseas in order to cultivate
Jewish identity and bolster ties between Israel and the Diaspora.
strategy is to expand this program over the next 10 years so that it is not
restricted to the US, but becomes a global vehicle for defending Jews on campus
and attracting them to Israel,” he said.
Speaking at the Jewish Agency’s
Board of Governors in Jerusalem, a tri-annual gathering of its leaders and
donors, Sharansky responded to criticism by some observers – including senior
agency officials – that expanding the group’s scope of operations to include
Jewish education, rather than focusing exclusively on Jewish immigration to
Israel, would be detrimental.
The former Soviet dissident told the
audience at the Inbal Hotel that the best method to increase aliya was indirect,
through education and fighting assimilation.
“In these two struggles, the
Jewish people have no better choice of weapon than Israel to make their children
proud Jews,” he said. “There is no better defender of the Jewish people than
But if the Jewish Agency is to implement the strategic plan it
introduced three years ago, it needs more funds. Like many other large Jewish
organizations, it has seen a drop in its income for a multitude of
Experts say this downturn is due to the aging of the traditional
donor base, the weakening of identity among younger Jewish Americans, the
ongoing economic uncertainty in the US and philanthropists’ increasing
preference to give money to specific causes rather than large
The agency has responded to these developments by creating an
independent fundraising department in New York headed by Misha Galperin. Its aim
is to raise more money directly from private donors. Diversifying its
sources of income would alleviate dependence on an annual stipend from the
Jewish federations and revenue from assets such as property, which are estimated
at tens of millions of dollars.
President Shimon Peres, who attended the
conference and spoke before Sharansky, acknowledged the changes at the Jewish
Agency in his speech and suggested it find a new moniker reflective of its
would-be broader agenda.
“You have to choose a name that fits its spirit
and its purpose,” he told delegates, and suggested that from now on it be called
the “Jewish Assembly.”