Herzog to 'Post': Communities to face financial, antisemitic trouble

In the time of the coronavirus emergency, the Jewish Agency is stepping up to help, in the Diaspora and in Israel.

Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog (photo credit: JEWISH AGENCY)
Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog
(photo credit: JEWISH AGENCY)
The day after the novel coronavirus emergency ends, Jewish institutions across the world will likely find they are facing a severe income shortage and will need to be on alert for a possible recrudescence of antisemitism, Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog told The Jerusalem Post.
A crucial liaison between Israel and the Diaspora since its establishment in 1929, the Jewish Agency is stepping up to provide assistance and guidance to institutions and people in need in Israel and abroad in this time of emergency. Herzog pointed out that aliyah, one of the core missions of the group, is continuing as it did even in the darkest days of Israel’s history.
“Since the beginning of the outbreak, we have had about 1,000 new olim [immigrants] from dozens of countries,” the chairman said.
New procedures have already been put in place to guarantee that all of those entering the country go into quarantine in one of the absorption centers or in pre-arranged private apartments.
“Thank God, no one so far has arrived carrying the virus,” he said. 
Herzog admitted that lockdowns around the world and cancellations of most international flights represent an obstacle.
“It is clear that aliyah will take longer and will be reduced,” he said. “But we are doing everything within the realm of possibility.”
In the meantime, the Jewish Agency is working to assist Jewish communities, both in the field with its overseas emissaries who have remained in their positions and by providing resources.
“As the biggest Jewish global organization we feel the responsibility towards our brothers and sisters around the world,” Herzog said.
After the coronavirus crisis started to hit Italy hard, he explained that the Jewish Agency together with Keren Hayesod “extended immediate support to the Italian Jewish community, which was vital to them to deal with their immediate needs.
“We have assisted with social services in Britain, we have volunteers that are helping in France, Spain, South Africa and the US,” Herzog added.
“What is clear also is that smaller communities without a very strong financial structure and dependent on ongoing resources find themselves in a very difficult position. There are also issues of security, especially for the day after, which need to be attended with funds,” he said. “What is clear is that all Jewish institutions and federations realize that there is a threat to some of the income from donations and from philanthropists that will impact them.”
As it has often happened in history, the outbreak of the pandemic has triggered manifestations of antisemitism, especially online.
“At the moment, I want to put it in a certain proportion. It is a major challenge, but other groups are facing hate rhetoric as well,” Herzog highlighted, adding that they are keeping the situation closely monitored. “However, we are seen bothering things and we assume that when the situation from the emergency relaxes, the historical tendency of blaming Jews will emerge, also because there are areas where Jews were the first ones to be hit by the virus.” 
Another front on which the Jewish Agency has been active is in supporting Israel’s nonprofit sector, as the organization has done for decades, often on behalf of world Jewry. 
Herzog explained that with the country in lockdown, the sector is going through a “catastrophe.” For this reason, the group has launched a special emergency assistance fund together with NGO Ogen, a social loan fund. He added that the Jewish Agency is also working with the government to establish a special grant.
“I’m very appreciative that some of our partners, like the Jewish Federations of North America, have entered the project, although they are already taking care of funding their local NGOs,” he said. 
Herzog expressed a positive judgment on how the government is handling the crisis. 
“I trust that Israel will overcome this, and I believe there are many important silver linings behind the clouds, such as the appreciation toward the Arab sector in Israel for their enormous contribution to the medical infrastructure and the fact that there are a lot of acts of solidarity. When I see a picture of a haredi [ultra-Orthodox] girl in Bnei Brak bringing challah on Friday night to the soldiers there, I feel a great hope.”