The triannual meeting of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency opened on Sunday following days of quiet and not so quiet grumblings regarding the leadership of director-general Alan Hoffmann.
The campaign has evidently gained so much traction that agency Chairman Natan Sharansky was forced to draft a letter to employees worldwide to defend the administrator while attending the funeral of slain Jew Dan Uzan in Denmark last week.
Sharansky continued defending Hoffmann at the opening of the meeting Sunday, repeating the content of his letter and pushing back against the agency’s critics.
In a series of blog posts, Richard Wexler, one of the founders of the national federation system, blasted Hoffmann over allegations of mismanagement, which were quickly picked up and distributed to journalists, Jewish activists and others by a mysterious man named Jacob Levy, who later identified himself as the front for a collective of “mostly past and some currents employees” of the agency.
According to Wexler, who is a vocal critic of both the federation system he helped establish and the Jewish agency, Hoffmann has been “unable to balance a budget or actually accomplish much at all.”
He also accused the administrator of “forcing out, time and again (or conspiring to force out), those with competence and a demonstrated ability to get things done, whom he may have perceived as a threat to his constricted ‘circle of trust.’” Wexler pointed to the departure of figures such as aliya head Eli Cohen, who left the agency when his department was shut down and its functions shifted to others.
Cohen declined to speak with The Jerusalem Post.
“The record suggests that this incredible professional brain drain – one that has sorely weakened the Jewish Agency – was on the watch of Alan Hoffmann, pure and simple,” he continued, adding that it is possible that Hoffmann had worked to prevent the election of Sharansky, the current chairman.
“He championed the Jewish Agency’s shift from being the State of Israel’s/the Jewish people’s premier and singular agent for aliya from around the world to nothing more than a travel agency. He has sat in silence while the agency’s sacred and covenanted aliya franchise is taken away by the government’s [Immigration] and Absorption Ministry, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Ezra youth movement.”
In his letter to agency employees last week, Sharansky wrote against “communications that have been circulating which seek to tarnish the reputation of the Jewish Agency and the entire Jewish Agency team,” citing the accomplishments of the agency.
“Over the past year alone, we provided immediate responses to three emergency situations that affected the entire Jewish world” – namely, supporting the South during the war with Hamas, battling anti-Israel incitement on North American campuses and working to bring in Jews fleeing France and the Ukrainian civil war.
“In the past, each unit of the Jewish Agency operated on its own. We have spent the past few years tearing down many of the walls that once separated the units, and are now able to achieve unified, coordinated, and collaborative activities which yield a true synergy between the programs and branches of the Jewish Agency. Together, we are working to achieve and promote our common goals. This has resulted in unprecedented collaboration between units and demonstrated the effectiveness of the shlihim [emissaries] who are involved in education, advocacy and aliya,” he wrote.
“We are all partners in these impressive achievements, from the director-general and senior management to the coordinators in the field and shlihim in the most remote communities.”
In response, “Jacob Levy” said that the agency has been responsible for “the wholesale closing of successful ulpans all over the country.”
Sharansky cited the opening of new absorption centers, an increase in the number of shlihim sent abroad and stated that “the financial condition of the Jewish Agency has improved; we have repaid all our debt and we raised a record amount from our donors.”
It may be the financial stability of the agency that worries its critics, however.
A 2011 decision by the Jewish Federations of North America to change its fiscal relationship with the organization, under which it provided three-quarters of its overseas allocations to the agency as an entitlement, hit especially hard.
Recently, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews ceased its donations to the agency, opting instead to open its own aliya program.
In the wake the JFNA’s decision to reevaluate its fiscal relationship with the agency, the agency hired former federation CEO Misha Galperin to head its newly established North American fund-raising arm, the Jewish Agency International Development.
Galperin, who helped raise millions for the agency as president and CEO of International Development, recently announced that he was stepping down from his position “to return to a simpler schedule, with less globe-trotting and more nightly dinners at the kitchen table.”
With the restructuring of the agency in recent years, “the power of the chairman doesn’t exist,” one former official close to the seat of power told the Post.
“Sharansky understands his power is the money he brings. The money he brought was from Galperin.
Hoffmann didn’t want Misha but couldn’t do anything because Misha didn’t work under him,” the source said.
However, Hoffmann had enough influence to make sure that Galperin would not be able to renew his contract at his current salary level, which is substantial, forcing him out, the source added.
“I think the announcement that Misha was leaving triggered a backlog of anger. Everything written was real and true,” said one member of the board of governors with knowledge of the matter. “Misha was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
The board member said that Hoffmann had set out from day one to “get rid of Misha and to get in his way.”
Levy accused the agency’s leadership of being good with Powerpoint presentations but bad at developing new programs, a sentiment echoed by the board member who spoke with the Post, who asserted that the agency’s new Diaspora Initiative it had developed with the Israeli government is now in administrative limbo.
The attacks kept coming, with Dan Brown of eJewishPhilanthropy, a former member of the agency assembly, accusing the agency of funding anti-Zionist yeshivot through Masa Israel.
In response, the agency stated that “programs (including yeshivot) which fail to comply are either never accepted or are not part of our system for long.”
In response to an inquiry by the Post, agency spokesman Avi Mayer stated that he would “not comment on ad hominem attacks against our senior staff.
“The board of governors’ agenda includes the most pressing issues facing world Jewry, including rising anti-Semitism in Europe, increasing aliya from France and Ukraine, and the ongoing assault on Israel’s legitimacy on US college campuses. Anonymous email chains are not amongst those issues.”