|Photo by: Courtesy Jewish Federation|
Budget issues may dominate conversation at GA
By GIL SHEFLER
The Jewish Federations of North America's General Assembly kicks of in Denver; funding shake-up set to hit Jewish Agency, Joint.
The Jewish Federations of North America’s (JFNA) General Assembly opened on Sunday amid questions of how much funding the Jewish federations will continue to provide to the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
JFNA – the umbrella group for the network of Jewish
federations – is set to introduce a proposal that would significantly change how
it funds the two groups that it collectively gave $135 million in
Budget issues to loom large at mile-high General Assembly
According to the plan, whose general outline was agreed on by all
three parties last November, the current 75:25 percent split dividing federation
money between the Jewish Agency and Joint Distribution Committee (JDC),
respectively, will cease to exist as of next year.
Instead, a new Global
Planning Table will deliver a funding recommendation to JFNA’s Board of Trustees
based on need and merit.
The Jewish federations raised $921m. in 2010, of
which $275m. went overseas, including the $135m. split between JDC and
“The GPT will work to determine priorities, strategies and action
in order to make the greatest impact where needed most,” according to a JFNA
executive summary prepared for the General Assembly. “Through this
initiative we have the opportunity and capacity to tackle the principal
challenges of the Jewish people worldwide.”
While the plan says funding
of the federations’ historic partner organizations will continue to be central
to the Global Planning Table, it also opens a door for competition from other
So far the Jewish Agency and JDC have both endorsed the
“The most important thing at the GA will be at its end when the
JFNA trustees meet to decide on the Global Planning Committee,” JDC Chief
Executive Officer Steven Schwager said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post
during a recent visit to Israel. “It’s the end of a 10-year trip for us during
which we’ve been advocating that funding should be allocated on a needs
“We support the effort to reengage communities that moved away or
have not been very involved in overseas issues that the federation system deals
with,” said Haviv Rettig Gur, the Jewish Agency’s spokesman. “We are hopeful
this effort can bring more communities and more players to the table. We have
shared some comments and concerns that with our federation partners about
implementation of the GPT.”
But opposition has been brewing underneath
the surface, with some outside commentators saying JFNA’s Global Planning
Committee plan is bad for the Jews. “The ‘GPT Plan,’ as drafted and
revised, presents such a convoluted piece of gibberish, it’s not fit to wrap
fish in,” wrote Richard Wexler, who headed several Jewish organizations and was
one of the architects of the JFNA, in his blog.
Wexler, and a few others,
have argued against the idea, saying it adds bureaucracy and confusion, and that
JFNA is in no better state to determine how to spend overseas funds than the
federations that raise the money.
“If, and when, the GPT is utilized as a
tool for decisionmaking it may be that some of the donor families that have been
the ‘die-hard’ supporters of the campaigns for decades will threaten to walk
away because decisions are being made by federations that do not represent their
values or commitments to the overseas partners,” wrote Stephen G. Donshik
in an op-ed that appeared on ejewishphilanthropy.com.
Moore, the senior vice president of global planning for JFNA and a key figure
behind the Global Planning Committee proposal, disagrees. She rejected
claims that her plan was cumbersome or might be opposed by
“Initially, the process may feel slow,” she said in an
interview over the phone from Denver. “Over time there will be a constant
reviewing process of the priorities so it will become an annual process of
review and tweaking. I understand the observation. I think we need to do our
initial homework, and once that is done it can be done rather
Moore defended the Global Planning Committee, saying reform was
necessary to give federations and philanthropists more of a say in how their
money is spent.
“This is a really unique and important opportunity to
create a dynamic new way of thinking about how we address global needs in a way
of engaging donors and philanthropists who haven’t had that opportunity,” she
Either way, the Global Planning Committee plan is bound to be one
of the most heatedly debated topics at the GA, which until recently seemed due
to be relative free of controversy.