Jewish Federations of North America backtrack on critique of Israel's immigration plan

CEO: Concerns that there would be a “separate company” not under control of Jewish Agency were proven unfounded Sunday.

Nefesh B'Nefesh aliya Aug 2013 370 (photo credit: Sasson Tiram)
Nefesh B'Nefesh aliya Aug 2013 370
(photo credit: Sasson Tiram)
The Jewish Federations of North America backtracked on its criticism of the Israeli government’s immigration promotion program on Monday, less than a day after the measure was passed by the cabinet.
The establishment of a private corporation to oversee the promotion of Jewish immigration from Europe was initially seen as a blow to the Jewish Agency by senior JFNA officials, who wrote a harsh letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu after an early draft of the plan was leaked to the media.
The corporation will be jointly owned by the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the World Zionist Organization. It will be overseen by a steering committee composed of two representatives of JAFI, two from the WZO, one from Keren Hayesod and five from the Immigration and Absorption Ministry.
The Director-General of the Immigration and Absorption Ministry will be chairman of the body and will have the right to break any tie during voting.
Writing to Netanyahu, senior Federation officials, including JFNA CEO Jerry Silverman, had complained that the plan would damage JAFI and end its exclusive responsibility for the handling of immigration.
“Aliya is a central part of our fund-raising mission in support of Israel and the Jewish Agency. It is a cornerstone of the Diaspora-Israel relationship and the efforts of building global Jewish identity with Israel at its center,” they wrote.
According to the Federations, its “efforts to support Israel, the Jewish Agency in particular and the programs of aliya are in jeopardy if the agreement comes to pass.”
Since the story came to light, many local Federations had contacted the JFNA, asking why they should continue financially supporting the Jewish Agency, the letter said.
The agency, “must continue to be the exclusive body to deal with aliya” and any changes to that status “will have dire consequences for our collective efforts to support our work,” the JFNA said.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post on Monday, however, Silverman changed his tune, saying that his organization’s position had “changed to a positive point of view.”
According to Silverman, the JFNA’s initial concerns that there would be a “separate company” not under the control of the Jewish Agency and that the long-standing role of the Zionist institution would be diminished were proven unfounded Sunday.
“What we said... very clearly is that we absolutely and strongly still support aliya [and] working with the Jewish Agency, and the Jewish Agency has a covenant with the State of Israel,” he said. “The new resolution from yesterday completely clarified that the company would be owned by the Jewish Agency and WZO, and it clarified that they would be the owners and that we would continue to be fund-raisers for this significant investment in aliya.”
Silverman said that he was thrilled that Sunday’s resolution clarified that JAFI was still the “government’s partner in delivering aliya, and we will continue to invest significantly.”
The plan approved by the cabinet named the JFNA as one of the bodies authorized to raise supplemental funds beyond the initial government appropriate of NIS 60 million for the project, which will be split between the new corporation and the Immigration and Absorption Ministry.
While the Federation system still injects significant capital into the Jewish Agency every year, the fiscal relationship between the two bodies changed significantly in 2011 – when the JFNA decided to stop channeling all funds intended for disbursement overseas exclusively through JAFI and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
However, the Federations are still a major source of money for the Jewish Agency, which “through fund-raising that the federations do is investing over $50m. already in aliya” this year, Silverman said.
Asked about media reports that the initiative was the result of a push by the Immigration and Absorption Ministry to gain control of immigration, Silverman said he thought that “all of these theories are just that, [unproven] theories.”
“Partnering with the ministry,” he said, is a case of “one plus one equals three, and that’s the way it should be.”