Jewish Agency possibly sidelined from gov’t Diaspora initiative

The cabinet has approved an initial budget of NIS 187m that is expected to be matched on a two-to-one basis by Diaspora communities.

JAFI board of governors in Tel Aviv (photo credit: SAM SOKOL)
JAFI board of governors in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: SAM SOKOL)
The Jewish Agency may be pushed out of what was heretofore a central role in coordinating the government’s new Diaspora Initiative, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Known popularly as the World Jewry Joint Initiative and backed by both the Prime Minister’s Office and the Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry, the program is intended to finance Jewish identity programs around the world to the tune of billions of dollars over the next two decades.
At the center of the plan is an as yet unnamed non-governmental corporation to be composed of representatives of the philanthropic world, the Israeli government and Diaspora communities, who will oversee funding and projects, according to sources familiar with the matter.
In June, the cabinet approved an initial budget of NIS 187 million that is expected to be matched on a two-to-one basis by Diaspora communities. In 2016, after the corporation is fully up and running, the government will call for an annual budget of NIS 800 million.
The initiative, aimed at stemming the tide of assimilation and forging stronger bonds between Diaspora Jews and Israel, was first revealed at a Jewish Agency-convened summit of international Jewish leaders in Jerusalem last November.
During the planning stages the primary movers behind the undertaking were said to be a triumvirate of public figures: Jewish Agency director-general Alan Hoffman, Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry director- general Dvir Kahana and the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Harel Locker.
Despite the prominent role that the Jewish Agency has played thus far, however, a letter Kahana sent to Diaspora organizations on Tuesday seemed to indicate a diminished role for the organization.
“First, I’d like to be clear – on the Israeli side and throughout this start-up period, the government through the Ministry for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs is overseeing the establishment of the Initiative and is currently serving as the convener for the Initiative,” he wrote.
Thanking the Jewish Agency for its role, Kahana said that the government was “continuing [its] dialogue with the Agency with the aim of finding the best way for it to fit into a role within the Initiative” and that “like with all our potential partners, we will work with the Jewish Agency to create a formidable and long-lasting partnership within the Initiative.”
The body being established to run the initiative will be “small, thin and effective,” according to Kahana and “will be as clean as possible of politics and free of unnecessary bureaucracy.”
According to a source familiar with the initiative, “the government together with representatives of the Jewish world understood that 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.
This is a result of the Agency’s ineffectiveness, difficult bureaucracy and lack of credibility throughout the Jewish world.”
The new program is slated to begin funding pilot programs aimed at young Jews around the world aged from 12 to 35 by the beginning of 2015.