Government, Jewish Agency approve memorandum on Diaspora Initiative

The Jewish Agency and the Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry had engaged in a high profile spat this summer over their respective roles.

Jewish Agency Director-General Alan Hoffman and Diaspora Affairs Ministry Director General Dvir Kahana  (photo credit: SAM SOKOL)
Jewish Agency Director-General Alan Hoffman and Diaspora Affairs Ministry Director General Dvir Kahana
(photo credit: SAM SOKOL)
KIEV – The government and Jewish agency may have come to an accord to end their feud over the two bodies’ respective roles in Israel’s initiative to promote Jewish identity in the Diaspora.
A memorandum of understanding outlining the relationship between the actors involved in the project, an initialed copy of which was subsequently obtained by The Jerusalem Post, was approved at a session of the agency executive last Friday, a spokesman told news website eJewishPhilanthropy over the weekend.
“In recent weeks, significant progress has been made in moving the government of Israel- World Jewry Joint Initiative toward implementation,” the spokesman said.
Approved by the cabinet in June, the project is intended to finance Jewish identity programs around the world to the tune of billions of dollars over the next two decades. Funding for the initiative is to be split three ways, among Diaspora organizations, Jewish philanthropists and the government.
The Jewish Agency and the Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry, both of which have been intimately involved in the formation of the initiative since before it’s public announcement in Jerusalem a year ago, engaged in a high profile spat over their respective roles this summer.
In August, Diaspora Affairs Ministry director-general Dvir Kahana sent a letter to leaders of several American Jewish organizations in which he indicated that the Jewish Agency would take a backseat to his organization.
The government was working on “finding the best way for [JAFI] to fit into a role within” the project but the ministry was “overseeing the establishment of the Initiative and is currently serving as the convener for the Initiative.”
The Jewish Agency, “does not have the legitimacy and credibility to oversee a long-term and strategic plan for the Jewish people while partnering with many other players,” a source close to the project told the Post at the time.
In response to Kahana’s missive, senior agency officials wrote to their board, asserting that the ministry had contradicted the government’s official position. In an interview with an Israeli news website soon thereafter, agency chairman Natan Sharansky went so far as to call Kahana “merely a young man who doesn’t understand.”
A copy of the 13-page memorandum of understanding obtained by the Post, which bears Kahana’s initials, seems to go some way to ameliorating the tensions between the parties, outlining the governance of the project and the roles of both parties within it.
At the center of the plan is to be a public benefit company, a professional body that will maintain oversight over the various projects run by the initiative and which, in turn, will be overseen by an oversight committee comprised of representatives of various stakeholders.
Four members of this committee will be designated by the government, with another four chosen by the Jewish Agency to represent the initiative’s constituent partners, which includes, JAFI, the World Zionist Organization and the United Jewish Appeal. At least one of those chosen by JAFI will not be an American. Up to four further members may be chosen from the “principal funders” of the initiative.
Ownership of the public benefit company will be held by seven independent trustees nominated by the Jewish Agency, with the government retaining the right to veto the choice of specific candidates. Kahana, Jewish Agency director-general Alan Hoffman and an agreed upon third party will chose the initial CEO.
A definitive agreement must be reached within 30 days of the signing of the memorandum, with the first meeting of the steering committee a month later, the sides agreed.
Initial programming will focus on youth, with specific programs aimed at: bringing teens to Israel; doubling the number of young people attending Jewish summer camps; increasing engagement opportunities on campuses; career building in Israel; Jewish service programs aiding the needy; follow-up programs within home communities; and the creation of a “single digital platform for the Jewish world.”
While both the Jewish Agency and the Diaspora Affairs Ministry declined to address the document on the record, Dr.
Danny Lamm, the chairman of the Jewish Agency’s Aliya and Rescue Committee, said that the agreement is “a step forward to a critical program to connect with Jewish youth worldwide and is to be applauded.”
One member of the JAFI executive who declined to be identified said, “This represents a significant rapprochement after significant negotiations between the parties. It does not answer the question of what programs or what money, just a willingness to work together.”
Philanthropist Jay Ruderman, has been critical of the initiative, asserting that the JAFI-government spat could potentially turn off philanthropists whose participation will be key in raising the funds in the Diaspora, necessary to trigger the government’s corresponding grants.
“If egos and bureaucracy can be set aside it will be interesting to watch what this initiative can accomplish, but those are two big ‘ifs,’” he told the Post.
“I still think that this initiative must approach Israel and the Diaspora as equals. It cannot be Israel-centric and succeed. I’d be interested which funders will take the risk and back this initiative in a major way.”