L.A.’s financial support of Israel’s election


The Los Angeles dollars—or shekels—spent may not have approached the amount Hollywood throws around for U.S. elections, but Jews in Los Angeles nevertheless managed to funnel about $175,000 into Israel’s party primaries this election cycle.

Israel’s primaries ended in January with Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu blowing out his rival Danny Danon, and Labor’s Isaac Herzog soundly defeating Shelly Yachimovich under the Zionist Union coalition, in which Labor is paired with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah. Israeli campaign finance law forbids foreign donations during the general parliamentary election—scheduled for March 17—but allows for very limited contributions during the primary season.

In this election’s primaries, Israeli candidates raised about $1.4 million in the United States, with New York donors contributing more than in any other state. In Los Angeles, candidates raised about $162,000, or 11 percent of the national total. And of that, Likud candidates—primarily Netanyahu and Danon—dominated the fundraising field, taking in nearly $124,000, or 70 percent of the total.

Netanyahu led the pack among the candidates, raising about $42,000 in Los Angeles; Danon brought in about $34,000, and other Likud candidates including Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein and Gilad Arden raised between about $11,000 and $15,000.

The only politician outside Likud to top $10,000 was Nahman Shai, a member of the Labor party and the Knesset’s Deputy Speaker, who raised more than $15,000. Abraham Dichter of Kadima raised about $8,000.

The campaign finance data, which is publically available on the Israeli comptroller’s website, shows that nearly 40 people in the Greater Los Angeles area sent funds to Israeli candidates this round, with most donations ranging in the thousands of dollars, and only a handful topping $10,000. Although the donations logged by the comptroller online date back to January 2013 at the earliest, the vast majority of the contributions came in late 2014 and early 2015, and were applied to candidates who ran in this election cycle’s party primaries.

Lawrence Feigen, an executive at Windsor Healthcare Rehabilitation, gave about $14,500 to three different candidates, all Likud—Netanyahu, Ya’alon and Edelstein. According to Federal Election Commission data, Feigen’s U.S. political donations over the years have been to both Democratic and Republican politicians and groups, including Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Karen Bass (D-Calif.), and current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK).

Feigen wrote to the Journal in an email that he’s been donating his money and time for decades to causes he believes in, including American and Israeli politics. “I generally (although certainly not always) agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s views,” Feigen wrote. Asked whether he knows if his political donations have made a difference, he responded: “I honestly have no idea what kind of impact my donations possibly can make. I hope they help.”

Shlomo Rechnitz, the local mega-philanthropist who for a brief time owned Doheny Meats in 2013, which he purchased as an attempt to rectify the kosher meat company after it was wracked with scandal, confirmed to the Journal that he gave about $11,500 to Netanyahu. Rechnitz too has given to a number of both Democratic and Republican politicians and groups, including former Congressman Henry Waxman, Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and a joint fundraiser for Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH).

Other notable local donors include Adam Milstein, a co-founder of the Israeli American Council; Richard Sandler, executive vice president of the Milken Family Foundation; real estate businessman and philanthropist Stanley Black; and Steve Goldberg, who ran an unsuccessful campaign last year to replace Mort Klein as the president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), and donated $4,000 to Danon’s campaign in January.

Goldberg was on the ZOA’s national board from 2008 to 2014 and became the board’s vice chair in 2010. He was also the head of ZOA’s Los Angeles chapter until its closure in 2014. On Monday, Goldberg was in Israel for the election. He recently became a dual citizen, and because Israel’s voting laws prohibit absentee ballots, Goldberg was among the Israeli citizens who flew there from the United States just to vote—in Goldberg’s case for Netanyahu, whom he initially opposed in favor of Danon in Likud’s party primaries.

“I found Danon to be courageous,” Goldberg said, referring to Danon’s outspoken opposition to Netanyahu’s handling of the Gaza war last summer. “He spoke up, put himself in political peril and risked his career.”

Peter Medding, a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem with expertise in Israeli politics, said that the amount candidates raised for the primaries in Los Angeles were “just symbolic” and said that, as in an American election, $175,000 has very little impact.

“It’s peanuts here too,” Medding said. Asked whether the $42,000 that went to Netanyahu could have any discernible impact, he said it would not. He added, though, that in party primaries, name recognition is a key factor for lesser-known candidates who need to pay for television ads across the country. Danny Danon, for example, who remains a vocal Netanyahu opponent yet has failed thus far to gain enough traction within Likud to become one of its leaders, nearly matched Netanyahu’s fundraising in Los Angeles. It didn’t help, though, in his bid to represent Likud in the general election.

For Netanyahu, on the other hand, visibility is not a problem.

“The amount of money that [Sheldon] Adelson spends on newspapers that promote Bibi every morning exceeds that by a function of 50 or 100,” Medding said, referring to Israel Hayom, the free daily funded by Adelson that is pro-Netanyahu.

Although the money Israeli candidates raised from Los Angeles for this year’s election cycle may ultimately prove inconsequential, Angelenos are sure to continue to be a source of funds for aspiring and established Israeli politicos.

“Los Angeles has been a good collection area for Israeli candidates,” Medding said. “There are generous donors there. People are used to giving money to political campaigns; they give to Israel as well as to Waxman.”

And for local Jews like Goldberg who are passionate about Israel, although a few thousand dollars here or there may not prove to change much, and represents only a “modest commitment”, it’s a commitment nonetheless.

“If there are people I believe in, I’ll do whatever I can to help,” Goldberg said. “One of those ways is money.”

Where does American funding for Israel go?


Where does American Jewish communal funding for Israel go? Do we have a right to know? 

As an American Jew who advocates for a two-state solution and Israeli democracy, I often hear that if I want to advocate for my vision of Israel’s future, I have to move to Israel. If I wanted to sit on my couch, share “Stand With Us” Facebook statuses, and cheerlead for the right-wing Likud party, there would be no pushback. But dare to support an end to the occupation of the West Bank, or to express our belief that it’s vital for Israel for to live up to its founding principles of democracy and civil rights, the response is clear: either hop on an El Al flight tomorrow, or kindly keep your opinions to yourself.

Defenders of this kind of hypocrisy argue that it’s justifiable because the beliefs of groups like J Street are held only by a tiny, anomalous minority. In fact, the opposite is true. Eighty percent of American Jews want a two-state solution. That same 80% supports some level of reduction of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. Do four out of every five American Jews need to move to Israel before they are allowed to express these opinions in public?

Why do our communal leaders ignore this majority? J Street U President Benjy Cannon has a theory. Quoted in a recent article, Cannon suggests that if Jewish communal leaders actually engaged with Americans who shared our vision of Israel’s future, they’d be forced to “acknowledge the need to talk about the occupation; to admit that they are not living up the values of their own community. And they’d rather not face that.” 

One way to avoid facing up to the truth is to complicate and obscure it. I’d like to believe our communal support for Israel goes toward causes that reflect Jewish values and a concern for Israel’s long-term security and legitimacy – and not to the occupation. I cannot know for sure, though, as most Jewish communal philanthropy is not transparent. And where there is transparency, it is sometimes very clear that this funding contradicts our values and Israel’s interests.

Growing up, I never gave much thought to stuffing my tzedakah money into the blue Jewish National Fund boxes at my BBYO meetings and synagogue. I thought they were just iconic symbols of righteous charity; I probably should’ve looked at the Green Line-less map of Israel on the side of the box more closely. Last year,  investigative journalist Raviv Drucker uncovered a list of 14 projects the JNF secretly funded in the settlements. Those blue boxes have real consequences for democracy in Israel. Beyond the JNF, Rabbi Jill Jacobs showed how $6 million dollars of American tax write-offs to non-profits funded settlement growth. And week, Eric Goldstein published an article outlining even more tax-deductible charities currently supporting settlement expansion.

That funding is no accident – it is part and parcel of long-term policy and ideology among some key communal institutions. At a recent panel on Jewish Agency-funded study abroad programs, Chairman Natan Sharansky told students at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly to see the controversial West Bank settlement Ariel “in the same light” as Tel Aviv. Indeed, his organization now funds a MASA program at Ariel University, routinely sending American gap year students into the heart of the occupation. 

With negotiations nowhere in sight and the status quo as entrenched as ever, supporters of Israel who believe the conflict can only be solved with two states have enough to despair about. That’s what makes this abdication of responsibility sting even more.  

We need the leaders of the organized Jewish community to answer these questions on behalf of their organizations. If continued settlement expansion doesn’t align with their values, as 80% of American Jews say it doesn’t, a public statement to that effect would be a great first step in demonstrating the moral courage and responsible leadership that this issue has been desperately lacking. Beyond this, our leaders should be crystal clear about which side of the Green Line they have been sending the money we contribute – and about where they intend to send it going forward.

Until we have transparency, we American Jews cannot understand the full scope of the role we are playing in the situation in Israel today.

As American Jews who proudly support Israel and proudly oppose the occupation, we firmly believe our community must wrestle with, acknowledge, and ultimately act to change its complicity in policies and actions that have made Israel less democratic and less secure. We hope all who agree will join us in asking for transparency, responsibility, and change. Now is the time to act. And you don’t need to hop on a flight in order to do so.

Ahmadinejad seeks strategic axis with Egypt


President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the first visit to Cairo by an Iranian leader in more than three decades, called for a strategic alliance with Egypt and said he had offered the cash-strapped Arab state a loan, but drew a cool response.

Ahmadinejad said outside forces were trying to prevent a rapprochement between the Middle East's two most populous nations, at odds since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and Egypt's signing of a peace treaty with Israel in the same year.

“We must all understand that the only option is to set up this alliance because it is in the interests of the Egyptian and Iranian peoples and other nations of the region,” the official MENA news agency quoted him in remarks to Egyptian journalists published on Wednesday.

The two countries have not restored diplomatic ties since Egypt overthrew its long term leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011, but its first Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, gave Ahmadinejad a red-carpet welcome on Tuesday to a summit of Islamic nations.

“There are those striving to prevent these two great countries from coming together despite the fact that the region's problems require this meeting, especially the Palestinian question,” Ahmadinejad said.

Egypt's foreign minister played down the significance of the visit, telling Reuters the Iranian leader, one of several heads of state to get the red-carpet treatment, was in Cairo chiefly for the Islamic summit beginning on Wednesday, “so it's just a normal procedure. That's all.”

He had earlier reassured Gulf Arab countries that Egypt would not sacrifice their security.

Egypt's leading Sunni Muslim scholar scolded Ahmadinejad on Tuesday when he visited the historic al-Azhar mosque and university over Tehran's attitude to its Gulf Arab neighbors and attempts to spread Shi'ite influence in Sunni countries.

In his meeting with Egyptian reporters, MENA said Ahmadinejad denied accusations Iran was interfering in Bahrain, where a Shi'ite majority lives under minority Sunni rule.

Three Egyptians and a Syrian were detained on suspicion of trying to attack the Iranian president at another mosque, security sources said. They were held overnight but released on bail of 500 Egyptian pounds ($75) each on Wednesday.

Video footage shot by a Turkish cameraman appeared to show a bearded man trying twice to throw a shoe at Ahmadinejad as he was mobbed by well-wishers on leaving the Hussein mosque.

The president was not hit but was hustled to his car by security men, stopping to wave before he was driven away.

The security sources said the three Egyptians held were all members of the al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, a hardline Islamist group that took up arms against the state in the 1990s but has moved into mainstream politics since Mubarak was toppled.

In the Arab world, throwing a shoe is a serious insult. An Iraqi journalist hurled a shoe at then-U.S. President George W. Bush during a news conference in Baghdad in 2008, forcing Bush to duck to avoid being hit.

Al-Ahram daily quoted Ahmadinejad as saying in an interview that Iran had offered to lend money to Egypt despite being under international economic sanctions over its nuclear program.

“I have said previously that we can offer a big credit line to the Egyptian brothers, and many services,” he said. He did not say if there had been any response.

The president said the Iranian economy had been affected by sanctions but it is a “great economy” that was witnessing “positive matters”, saying exports were increasing gradually.

The United States and its Western allies have sought to choke off Iran's vital oil exports by embargoing imports from the Islamic republic and cutting its access to shipping, insurance and finance.

Egypt disclosed on Tuesday that its foreign reserves had fallen below the $15 billion level that covers three months' imports despite recent deposits by Qatar to support it.

Tourism has been badly hit by unrest since the uprising that toppled authoritarian Mubarak, and investment has stalled due to the ensuing political and economic uncertainty.

Ahmadinejad said there had been scant progress on restoring ties between the two countries.

“No change happened in the last two years, but discussions between us developed and grew, and His Excellency President Mohamed Morsi visited Iran and met us, as he met the Iranian foreign minister. And we previously contacted Egypt to know about what is happening with Syrian affairs,” he said.

One persistent obstacle to ties in Cairo's eyes was the naming of a street in Tehran after an Egyptian Islamist militant who led the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat, who signed the treaty with Israel.

“On the question of the street name or its removal, these are matters that will be dealt with gradually,” Ahmadinejad said.

Writing by Paul Taylor; editing by Philippa Fletcher

Israeli nature reserve designated as UNESCO site


UNESCO voted to designate a nature reserve in northern Israel as a World Heritage Site.

The culture and science arm of the United Nations gave the Nahal Me’arot and Carmel Caves Nature Reserve the distinction last Friday, according to an Israeli government news release.

Located near the northern port city of Haifa, the nature reserve is the site of a group of prehistoric caves where early humans lived for millennia, according to the release. Israel has seven other World Heritage Sites, including Jerusalem’s Old City and Masada.

Also last week, UNESCO named the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem a World Heritage Site and listed it in Palestine, a decision that drew criticism from the United States.

Panetta announces $70 million for Iron Dome near term


The Obama administration said it would rush $70 million to Israel in order to enhance its Iron Dome missile defense system, with more money in the pipeline.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said Thursday after meeting with his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak, that he was directed by President Obama to meet Israel’s needs for the system as indicated by Barak.

“My goal is to ensure Israel has the funding it needs each year to produce these batteries that can protect its citizens,” Panetta said. “That is why going forward over the next three years, we intend to request additional funding for Iron Dome based on an annual assessment of Israeli security requirements against an evolving threat.”

Legislation under consideration in Congress, shaped in consultation with administration officials, would deliver $680 million to Israel for the system, which earlier this year successfully intercepted rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

The system was funded in part by $205 million transferred by the United States to Israel in 2011.

Barak in a statement said he “greatly appreciated” the announcement, adding that “This additional funding for the Iron Dome system comes at a crucial time for the Israeli people.”

Barak is in Washington to discuss with Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton efforts to keep Iran from obatining a nuclear weapon. Israel has suggested it could strike soon, seeing Iran as close to achieving the capability of building a nuclear weapon. The Obama administration wants Israel to roll back any strike plans while it pursues a policy of sanctions and diplomacy to get Iran to make its nuclear plans more transparent. Iran denies plans to make a nuclear weapon.

Israel would likely seek to shore up its defenses against attacks on its borders ahead of any conflict with Iran, as Iran would be likely to pressure surrogates in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon to attack.

The American israel Public Affairs Committee also praised the Obama administration for its announcement.

“This funding will enable the Jewish state to better protect its citizens, thus preventing a wider conflict,” AIPAC said in a statement. “Missile defense programs are a cornerstone of U.S.-Israel cooperative programs. The two allies work together to develop innovative technologies that advance the security of both nations.”

Report: Hadassah Medical Center can’t meet payments


The Hadassah Medical Center has not been able to pay its suppliers, an Israeli business daily has reported.

Hadassah’s debt to its suppliers is reportedly about $2.65 million, according to the Calcalist, a publication of Yediot Achronot.

The Hadassah Medical Center does not receive any Israeli government support, as it is owned by Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.

The Hadassah organization lost about $90 million in the Madoff Ponzi scheme. Following the Madoff affair, Hadassah cut its annual support to the hospital, according to Yediot Achronot.

Hadassah told Ynet that “unlike other hospitals, Hadassah does not receive any budgeting from the government or the State health system. This is a temporary setback in a minor portion of the payments due to the fact that Hadassah has not received all of its due payments from various parties.”

Republicans’ ‘Starting from zero’ aid proposal startles pro-Israel community


“Starting from zero,” the foreign assistance plan touted by leading Republican candidates at a debate, is getting low marks, and not just from Democrats and the foreign policy community. Pro-Israel activists and fellow Republicans also have concerns.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry introduced the plan during the first foreign policy debate Saturday night, held by CBS and the National Journal at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. South Carolina is a key early primary state.

“The foreign aid budget in my administration for every country is going to start at zero dollars,” he said. “Zero dollars. And then we’ll have a conversation. Then we’ll have a conversation in this country about whether or not a penny of our taxpayer dollar needs to go into those countries.”

Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, signed on immediately. Gingrich said the plan made “absolutely perfect sense.” Romney, who has made clear that he disagrees with Perry on much else, in this case said he welcomed the idea, saying “You start everything at zero.”

The proposal of such a radical change raised concerns in the pro-Israel community.

“Hacking away at the international affairs budget of the U.S. government is inefficient and counterproductive, and will not advance U.S. fiscal interests,” said Jason Isaacson, the American Jewish Committee’s director of international affairs. “There’s too little money and it’s too vital to put on the chopping block.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee did not have comment, but its former spokesman, Josh Block, weighed in with an e-mail blast to reporters of comments he had provided to Politico.

“When Rick Perry speaks, all I can think is oops,” wrote Block, who is now a consultant for centrist Democrats, but who has been critical of President Obama. Block was referring to Perry’s “oops” in an earlier debate, when he had a memory lapse about the agencies that he had proposed to eliminate.

“Even appearing to question our commitment to Israel certainly falls in that category,” Block said. “Foreign aid is one of the best investments we can make, and it represents 1 percent of our budget. Israel is special, and our aid to them is a direct investment in our own economy.”

At least three-quarters of the $3 billion in military assistance that Israel receives from the United States each year must be spent stateside. Overall, the U.S. spends about $50 billion annually in foreign assistance, less than 1 percent of the overall budget.

Pressed by a viewer, through Twitter, to specify whether “start from zero” included Israel, Perry replied, “Absolutely.”

“Every country would start at zero,” he said. “Obviously, Israel is a special ally. And my bet is that we would be funding them at some substantial level. But it makes sense for everyone to come in at zero and make your case.”

That drew a withering response from the Republican Jewish Coalition, which tweeted, “Hoping @perrytruthteam will brief their man on 10-year Memorandum of Understanding that governs US- #Israel funding levels.”

Israel and the United States signed the 10-year memorandum of understanding in 2007; its long-term assurances are aimed at providing Israel with both financial assurances and political support. The message, said Robert Wexler, a former Democratic congressman from Florida speaking to Jewish reporters on a Democratic National Committee conference call, is that the United States has Israel’s back in the long run.

“Contrast that with the message that the Republican presidential candidates sent on Saturday night, which is that the security relationship between the United States and Israel, like all other relationships, is zeroed out every year,” Wexler said. “And let Israel make the argument why it’s justified, and maybe it will and maybe it won’t be honored. The 2007 memorandum of understanding for President Obama is sacrosanct. For the Republicans, they apparently don’t even reference it.”

In fact, immediately following the debate, Romney’s spokesmen said he would exempt Israel from the policy—but that didn’t do much to assuage pro-Israel concerns. Pro-Israel figures for years have emphasized that they prefer to see Israel wrapped into an overall foreign policy package and not tweaked apart, as some Republicans have proposed.

Gingrich raised pro-Israel eyebrows when he proposed starting Egypt at zero, in part because of rising Muslim-Christian tensions in that country in the wake of the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak. Israel has made clear that it wants U.S. assistance to continue as long as the Egyptian government maintains the peace treaty with Israel.

Richard Parker, the spokesman for the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a foreign aid advocacy group co-founded by AIPAC and top-heavy with former U.S. generals, said U.S. assistance leverages U.S. influence and tamps down unrest.

“When we go into a country and help them with education and health efforts, you can stabilize those countries,” said Parker, whose group on Monday released a letter from five former secretaries of state—including four Republicans—urging Congress not to cut the foreign aid budget.

That was also a key point for Isaacson, who spoke with JTA from Morocco, where he is on an AJC trip through the region to encourage democracy reforms.

“I’m meeting with government and civil society figures that see us a beacon of democracy, but an uncertain partner,” Isaacson said, referring to the rancorous political debate in the United States over the proper U.S. role overseas. “Signals that the U.S. would retreat are troubling and not in the interests of the United States.”

A Romney adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity said that influence comes only if the United States ensures accountability from recipients. The source referred to the issue that had sparked Perry’s response in the first place: Pakistan’s unreliable role as an ally.

“We have seen a ton of money in places, and zero comes out of it,” the source said, explaining that starting from zero would “force a culture of accountability. The Pakistanis think they have us over a barrel. It’s one thing to have influence, and it’s another to have someone think they’re so indispensable to you they can do what they want.”

That is not a unanimous view among Republicans. The top foreign operations appropriator in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), has repeatedly made the case for using assistance as a means of influence. Significantly, two of the candidates with deep congressional roots made the same case in the debate Saturday night, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).

“We can’t be indecisive about whether Pakistan is our friend,” Santorum said. “They must be our friend. And we must engage them as friends, get over the difficulties we have, as we did with Saudi Arabia, with respect to the events of 9/11.”

The most recent debate was not the first time that Republican front-runners called for a change in American foreign aid policies. In a debate last month, Romney suggested that he favored eliminating American foreign aid that goes for humanitarian purposes.

“I happen to think it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to borrow money from the Chinese to go give to another country for humanitarian aid,” Romney said at the Oct. 18 debate. “We ought to get the Chinese to take care of the people that are taking that borrowed money today.”

Israel cuts tax payments to Palestinian Authority


Israel has suspended $100 million in tax payments to the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli officials had threatened to cut off payments entirely if Palestine was admitted into UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency. Palestine was recognized as a state at UNESCO earlier this week over opposition from U.S. and Israel.

Palestinian officials announced Thursday that Israel had not transferred tax revenue for November. The funds are collected from customs, border and some income taxes and are usually transferred within the first three days of the month. 

Israel has yet to announce a public position on the tax payments, but an official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that a “temporary hold” has been put in place “pending a final decision,” The Associated Press reported.

According to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the PA uses that money to pay their employees and has had to borrow from local banks to make up for the loss of funds.

Israel to halt UNESCO funding over Palestinian vote


Israel said on Thursday it would freeze its funding to the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO following the group’s decision to grant the Palestinians full membership.

A statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said UNESCO’s decision this week damaged chances of reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians and that Israel would halt its annual payments of $2 million.

Israel’s main ally, the United States, has also stopped its financing, which accounts for 22 percent of the agency’s funds.

The UNESCO vote on Monday was a diplomatic victory for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who in the absence of peace talks has pushed for recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations, a move opposed by Israel and the United States.

“Steps like these do not promote peace but make it more distant,” Netanyahu said of the UNESCO vote.

Netanyahu has called on Abbas to return without preconditions to peace negotiations that collapsed over a year ago in a dispute over Jewish settlement. Abbas says Israel must first freeze settlement activity.

A day after the UNESCO vote, Israel announced it would speed up the building of some 2,000 housing units in the occupied West Bank and around Jerusalem, and freeze tax transfers to Abbas’s Palestinian Authority.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Canada will not make up UNESCO shortfall, minister says


Canada’s foreign affairs minister said his country would continue paying dues to UNESCO but would not offer the agency any additional money.

John Baird said Wednesday that his government would not offer any additional voluntary payments to help offset the shortfall after the United States withdrew its funding over the U.N. cultural agency’s vote to extend full membership to the Palestinians.

Canada gives nearly $12 million annually to UNESCO. It voted against the motion.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization approved the Palestinians’ bid Monday during its general assembly in Paris by a vote of 107 to 14. The vote activated legislation adopted nearly two decades ago that prohibits U.S. funding to U.N. agencies that accord the Palestine Liberation Organization statehood status.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday that a $60 million payment to UNESCO scheduled for November will not be delivered. The U.S. annual dues to UNESCO comprise more than 20 percent of the agency’s budget.

“The bottom line is there’s going to be a large hole in UNESCO’s budget because of the American law which withdraws funding, and people at UNESCO should not look to Canada to fill that budget hole,” Baird said. “They’ll have to go to the countries who supported this resolution; that caused this budget loophole.”

Granger warns UNESCO: Admit Palestinians, lose funding


A top congressional appropriator, U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, warned UNESCO that granting the Palestinians full membership could mean a cutoff in U.S. funding for the cultural body.

The Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations on Wednesday allowed to go ahead a full vote later this month on whether to admit the Palestinians as a member.

“Since April, I have made it clear to the Palestinian leadership that I would not support sending U.S. taxpayer money to the Palestinians if they sought statehood at the United Nations,” Granger (R-Texas) said in a statement. “Making a move in another U.N. agency will not only jeopardize our relationship with the Palestinians, it will jeopardize our contributions to the United Nations. As chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, I will advocate for all funding to be cut off. This is consistent with current law and I will consider additional actions as needed. 

“There are consequences for short-cutting the process, not only for the Palestinians, but for our longstanding relationship with the United Nations,” the statement concluded.

Granger’s statement cited U.S. law that bans funding of any institution that grants member-state status to the Palestinians.

The United States, Germany, Latvia and Romania opposed the vote. Forty countries voted in favor and 14 abstained.

Israel rejected the approval of the UNESCO vote. “Israel believes that the correct and only way to advance the peace process with the Palestinians is through direct, unconditional negotiations,” said a statement issued by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. “The Palestinians’ actions at UNESCO negate both the bilateral negotiations route and the Quartet’s proposal for continuing the diplomatic process. Their actions are a negative response to Israel’s and the international community’s efforts to promote the peace process.”

“UNESCO’s responsibilities address culture, science and education. UNESCO has remained silent in the face of significant change across the Middle East yet has found time during its’ current meeting to adopt six decisions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The decision to grant the Palestinians membership of UNESCO will not advance their desire for an independent state whatsoever,” teh ministry’s statement said.

The Anti Defamation League called the decision to bring the Palestinian request to a vote “woefully premature and dangerously inappropriate.”

“The Palestinians have unduly politicized this body, and if this action is approved by the full membership, it risks undermining the truly important work of UNESCO,” said ADL National Director Abraham Foxman in a statement.

“UNESCO, or any international organization for that matter, is not the place to grant recognition of a Palestinian state. Seeking such recognition ignores and delays the necessary discussions about what shape proposed borders would take; the very recognition of Israel as a Jewish state; security concerns, and many other issues,” said B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs. “All such determinations can only be made directly between the Israelis and Palestinians.”

GOP, Democratic appropriators agree on funding for Israel


House Republican and Democratic appropriators said assistance to Israel would continue at existing levels, although they agreed on little else.

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), the chairman of the House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee, in a joint statement with Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), chairwoman of the foreign operations subcommittee of Appropriations, said that Israel’s $3.075 billion in aid would remain unaffected under the 2012 State and Foreign Operations Act.

Hearings on the bill start this week.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the foreign operations subcommittee, said she was “pleased” that the measure “fully funds our commitment to ensure our ally Israel maintains its qualitative military edge,” but she decried other proposed cuts, saying the result would be to “downsize” the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Granger countered that the cuts ensure “tough oversight and accountability.”

The appropriations bill, which outlines spending, is a companion to the State Department authorization bill approved last week by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which sets conditions for spending.

Ford Foundation to end Israel funding


The Ford Foundation is denying that it is ending its Israel funding over criticism leveled at the foundation and some of the groups it helps to fund.

The Forward reported Thursday that the philanthropic foundation, which has contributed $40 million to civil society groups since 2003, will wind down its giving in two years.

Ford was sharply criticized for backing Israeli-Arab groups that helped steer what was to have been the 2001 United Nations conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, into an anti-Israel and anti-Jewish forum.

Subsequently, other groups that Ford helps fund—including the New Israel Fund, itself an umbrella fund for hundreds of progressive groups—have been targeted by some on Israel’s right wing for harsh criticism of Israel.

Ford and the NIF denied that these were factors in the decision to defund, instead noting that Israel’s civil society sector is capable of seeking funding from other sources.

Some on the left had criticized Ford and other outside philanthropies in recent years for steering money into a wealthy and Western democracy that had shown itself capable of tolerating dissent instead of spending money assisting groups in autocracies.

POINT: Caveat Conlator: Funder beware


The entire Jewish community should applaud the recently announced plan by The Jewish Federations of North America, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and several major Jewish federations to invest millions of dollars over the next few years to fight the delegitimization and demonization of Israel. These groups understand that if academic and cultural boycotts are legitimate when aimed at Jews in the West Bank today, they will soon become legitimate when aimed at Jews in Tel Aviv tomorrow; and, you can be sure that after that, the boycotters will set their sites on Jews in New York, Los Angeles, Peoria … and everywhere else that Jews live.

Unfortunately, on the ground, anti-delegitimization efforts are being undermined by some of the very organizations that the mainstream Jewish community actually finances. The JCC of Manhattan recently invited boycotter Tony Kushner to speak at the opening night of its “Other Israel Film Festival.” American Friends of Hebrew University bestowed their prestigious Scopus Award on boycotter Frank Gehry. The JCC of San Francisco made boycotter Stephen Sondheim a keynote speaker at their Ideas Programs. And, the executive committee of the Foundation for Jewish Culture, an organization with a proud history of support for Jewish scholarship and art — though also with a recent history of funding several highly controversial projects that many critics consider anti-Israel propaganda — recently overwhelmingly rejected a simple resolution to condemn “academic or cultural boycott of Jews or Israel, their academics and artists, or their academic and cultural institutions.”

This vote was disturbing for many reasons. First, the mission of the foundation is to “nurture a vibrant and enduring Jewish identity, culture, and community.” What could be less nurturing to Jewish culture than cultural boycotts? Second, the foundation had a special obligation to distance itself from boycotters; a number of artists and academics whom it has honored, funded or placed on grant panels during the past decade are some of our people’s most prominent boycotters — Kushner, Theodore Bikel (a board member of the foundation), Sheldon Harnick, to name a few.  In recent years, the foundation has funded some of the most anti-Israel propaganda, on the principle that artists and academics were entitled to “freedom of expression.” In rejecting the above resolution, the Foundation apparently concluded that some Jewish and Israeli artists and academics’ rights were not as important as others.

Most troubling of all, however, is that the Foundation for Jewish Culture is funded by many Jewish federations, foundations and philanthropists. Ironically, at just the time that so many of these major funding entities are investing millions in efforts to combat delegitimization and demonization from one pocket, they are actually (unwittingly) supporting delegitimization and demonization from the other pocket. 

I would maintain that Jewish communal money should never be used to provide artists or academics with a platform (i.e., funding, honor or visibility) for their art, scholarship or political views, if such a platform would be denied to another Jew or Israeli — anywhere in the world. Therefore, I propose that every Jewish federation, foundation and philanthropist that opposes academic and cultural boycotts — and every Jewish organization that receives community funds — enact a simple board resolution or grant policy (and require that each of its beneficiaries do the same), as follows:

BE IT RESOLVED that [name of federation or organization] condemns any attempt or implementation of any academic or cultural boycott of Jews or Israel, or Jewish or Israeli academic and cultural institutions, and will take any and all future action that it deems appropriate to publicize its position on the above, to distance itself from those who participate in such boycotts, and to ensure that it in no way aids or abets such boycotts through its funding programs.

Some boycotters may believe that by participating in international boycotts, they are merely protesting a policy of the Israeli government, when, in fact, they are fueling what the Reut Institute has called the Delegitimization Network, a loosely aligned group of radical leftist organizations and individuals who seek to “negate Israel’s right to exist.” Reut continues that the “effectiveness of Israel’s delegitimizers … stems from their ability to engage and mobilize others by blurring the lines with Israel’s critics.” Unfortunately, as Hannah Rosenthal, U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, recently told a conference on combating anti-Semitism: “Opposition to a policy [of] the State of Israel morphs into anti-Semitism easily and often.”

A resolution such as this would, first and foremost, ensure that these funders — who are avowedly anti-boycott — not unwittingly fund organizations that do not share their values. Second, Jewish organizations have an opportunity to educate and inform the general public, as well as well-meaning, non-enemies of Israel, of the unintended destructiveness of boycotts in fueling the Delegitimization Network. 

A resolution, such as the one proposed, would not be unprecedented for federations or foundations. Today, many impose upon their grantees various obligations, which range from practicing and promoting ethical business practices to maintaining an open and diverse workplace. Some go further and require grantees to commit to principles of pluralism, and some even fund only organizations that express a positive attitude toward the State of Israel.

What can individual Jews do? First, you should inquire of the federations and organizations that you support what they are doing to combat delegitimization and demonization of Israel, and suggest that they institute an anti-boycott measure, such as the one outlined above. Second, individuals who patronize the arts and culture should educate themselves about artists and institutions that support international boycotts.

Think twice before going to a performance or supporting the work of artists like Daniel Barenboim, Stephen Sondheim, Tony Kushner, Harold Prince and Julianne Moore; think twice before you patronize any number of organizations that have allowed their boycotting staff to associate their organizations’ names with the boycott movement: Playwrights Horizons theater, New York Theatre Workshop, the Public Theater and even the New York Foundation for the Arts. At a minimum, do what you can to educate these individuals and organizations — and the hundreds of others like them — about how their actions violate other artists’ rights to free expression and play so perfectly into the hands of Israel’s biggest enemies.

David Eisner is CEO of a financial data company and an active philanthropist from New York. He previously lived in Westwood.

Congress passes funding until March


Congress passed a procedural resolution that sustains government funding until March.

The “continuing resolution” passed Tuesday includes the $2.75 billion in annual defense assistance for Israel. It passed 79-16 in the Senate and 193-165 in the U.S. House of Representatives.

It maintains government funding at 2010 levels. Failure to pass it would have meant that the government would run out of money by midnight.

The Republican minority in the Senate had used parliamentary procedures to block spending bills, in part because Republicans are set to retake the House in January and the party wants to use its new power to slash spending as soon as possible.

Jewish groups are apprehensive that the new Congress will slash “earmarks” for representatives’ districts, which include funding for programs for the poor and elderly favored by the groups.

Additionally, pro-Israel groups are reaching out to new members to keep foreign aid funding at current levels.

Democrats have made it clear they will make funding for Israel a key issue in pusshing back against overall GOP attempts to slash spending in the new Congress.

“The incoming Republican leadership has sent disturbing signals about the future of aid to Israel with its calls for across the board budget cuts without regard to the impact on U.S. allies and interests around the world,” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the outgoing chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement.

J Street owns up to Soros funding


J Street has acknowledged substantial donations from billionaire George Soros, reversing years of claims by the group that it had nothing to do with the liberal financier, and apologized for making misleading statements about his role.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the director of the dovish pro-Israel lobby, confirmed to JTA a report that first appeared in The Washington Times that it had received $245,000 from Soros and his children in 2008, and added that it had received another $500,000 in subsequent years—altogether, about 7 percent of the $11 million that J Street says it has taken in since its 2008 founding.

Ben-Ami for years has given statements denying Soros had a role in founding the group and strongly implying that he continued to have no role.

In the “Myths and Facts” section of its website, J Street denied the “myth” that Soros “founded and is the primary funder of J Street” as follows: “George Soros did not found J Street. In fact, George Soros very publicly stated his decision not to be engaged in J Street when it was launched—precisely out of fear that his involvement would be used against the organization. J Street’s Executive Director has stated many times that he would in fact be very pleased to have funding from Mr. Soros and the offer remains open to him to be a funder should he wish to support the effort.”

In an interview, Ben-Ami denied that the conditional tense of the last sentence, and saying that an offer “remains open,” leaves little room to infer Soros had given the group any money. He insisted that the characterization was truthful.

“This was not founded by him, he didn’t provide initial funding,” Ben-Ami said. “I stand by the way that is phrased—I still want him to support us more.”

In an interview with Moment magazine last March, Ben-Ami was even more direct in his denial: “We got tagged as having his support without the benefit of actually getting funded!”

But on Sunday, two days after The Washington Times story appeared, Ben-Ami on the J Street blog released a statement to followers regretting the misleading statements about Soros’ role.

“I accept responsibility personally for being less than clear about Mr. Soros’ support once he did become a donor,” Ben-Ami said in the statement. “I said Mr. Soros did not help launch J Street or provide its initial funding, and that is true. I also said we would be happy to take his support. But I did not go the extra step to add that he did in fact start providing support in the fall of 2008, six months after our launch.”

As a corporation that does not have tax-exempt status, Ben-Ami noted, J Street was under no obligation to reveal its donors.

“Nevertheless, my answers regarding Mr. Soros were misleading,” he said. “I deeply and genuinely apologize for that and for any distraction from J Street’s important work created by my actions and decisions.”

Ben-Ami said J Street’s board kept contributions secret as a matter of policy, but that it was also his understanding that Soros continued to prefer to keep his funding off the record.

Michael Vachon, a Soros spokesman, said that Soros had no problem with his role being made public because by the time he contributed money, J Street was up and running.

“Mr. Soros never made any secret about his contributions to J Street,” he told JTA. “Mr. Soros believes that J Street makes an important contribution to the policy debate in the United States in the Middle East. He is a financial supporter of the organization but he doesn’t control the day-to-day operations, nor does he have a role in setting the organization’s policy. He has no problem telling people what he funds.”

Soros would not give J Street seed money, Vachon said, because Soros “knew that had he given the money at the beginning, media outlets would have tried to claim that the organization is a Soros-funded organization.”

Soros, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor and hedge fund billionaire, has funded a broad range of liberal groups in the United States and pro-democracy groups overseas, including in countries that were shucking off communism.

He sparked controversy in Jewish circles for saying in a 1995 New Yorker profile that he doesn’t “want to be part of” pro-Israel activity, although he did not deny “the Jews their right to a national existence.”

In 2003, an apparent attempt by Soros to gingerly enter the world of Jewish funding went awry when he attended a meeting of the Jewish Funders Network and said that U.S., Israeli and Jewish policies “contribute” to manifestations of anti-Semitism.

His thesis appeared to be that Israeli and American officials should be aware that anti-Semites use their policies as a pretext for attack, and not that these policies justify anti-Semitism.

“I’m also very concerned about my own role because the new anti-Semitism holds that the Jews rule the world,” he said at the meeting. “As an unintended consequence of my actions, I also contribute to that image.”

The nuances were lost on Jewish organizational leaders, however, who accused him of “blaming the victim.”

The fallout stung: In an article in 2007 for the New York Review of Books, Soros scored what he said was the organized Jewish community’s tendency to lump critics of Israel with anti-Semites.

“Anybody who dares to dissent may be subjected to a campaign of personal vilification,” he wrote. “I speak from personal experience. Ever since I participated in a meeting discussing the need for voicing alternative views, a torrent of slanders has been released.”

In the same article, which argued for mitigating the influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee—a key rationale for J Street’s establishment—he wrote that “I am not a Zionist, nor am I am a practicing Jew, but I have a great deal of sympathy for my fellow Jews and a deep concern for the survival of Israel.”

He concluded: “I should like to emphasize that I do not subscribe to the myths propagated by enemies of Israel and I am not blaming Jews for anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism predates the birth of Israel. Neither Israel’s policies nor the critics of those policies should be held responsible for anti-Semitism. At the same time, I do believe that attitudes toward Israel are influenced by Israel’s policies, and attitudes toward the Jewish community are influenced by the pro-Israel lobby’s success in suppressing divergent views.”

Ben-Ami’s initial attempts in 2006 to establish a dovish coalition of pro-Israel groups fell apart when Soros’ potential involvement was revealed.

Soros has shown a willingness recently to contribute to Jewish causes.

This month, he said he would give $1 million to World ORT, the international network of Jewish vocational schools, toward its program to help Liberia’s ex-child soldiers.

Donors push Bar-Ilan to head of the class


“I wish I had 10 percent of the success with the Israeli government as I have with private donors,” sighed Moshe Kaveh, the president of Bar-Ilan University.

His sentiment is understandable. Together with Israel’s six other research universities, Bar-Ilan has been in a prolonged financial wrestling match with the country’s budgetmakers, which, Kaveh warned, could well lead to another academic strike in the fall.

On the other hand, private donations to Bar-Ilan are at a new high, with the West Coast and the Southwestern states leading the rest of the country by a wide margin.

Kaveh was recently in Los Angeles and, in an interview, gave an update on the state of both his university and of Israeli higher education.

Founded 53 years ago, Bar-Ilan is now the largest Israeli university, with 33,000 undergraduate and graduate students, double the number of a decade ago.

To accommodate expanding enrollment, professional schools and research projects, the campus at Ramat Gan has also doubled in size over the last eight years and the campus is one of the showpieces of Israeli higher education.

Although many consider Bar-Ilan an Orthodox bastion, some 60 percent of its students graduated from secular high schools and only 40 percent from religious schools.

Regardless of ideology or academic major, however, every student must spend 25 percent of the curriculum on Jewish studies.

The religious and social mix makes for some lively discussions, inside and outside the classroom, but Bar-Ilan may be one of the few places in Israel, Kaveh said, where the Orthodox and the secular can debate their different perspectives with civility and tolerance.

Bar-Ilan has also seen a boom in new facilities, mostly underwritten by private donations, with Los Angeles philanthropists contributing the lion’s share.

Facilities for studies and research in nanotechnology, medicine, brain research, psychology, languages and Jewish heritage bear the names of such Los Angeles donors as the Gonda (Goldschmied) family, Fred and Barbara Kort, Max and Anna Webb, Lily Shapell, Jack and Gitta Nagel and Milan and Blanca Roven.

Now in the works is the Digital Judaic Bookshelf Project, which aims for nothing less than a complete compendium of Jewish knowledge and thought. Its foundation is the university’s Responsa Project, with some 90,000 questions and answers on all aspects of Judaism.

Private donations now make up 20 percent of Bar-Ilan’s total budget.

“Ten years ago, I couldn’t have dreamt of the kind of support we are getting now,” said Ron Solomon, West Coast executive director.

The kippah-wearing Kaveh, 64, is a prominent physicist, who spends every summer conducting advanced research at Britain’s Cambridge University.

His area of scientific expertise is disordered systems and chaos theory, a specialty he finds useful in dealing with the Israeli government, and that brings him to the downside of his current message.

“All we have in Israel are our brains, but what we are seeing is a steady brain drain, mainly to the United States and Europe,” Kaveh said, sipping water in the lobby of the Century Plaza Hotel.

He puts most of the blame on the government’s budgetary priorities. Currently, the Ministry of Education provides 65 percent of the national university budgets, including faculty salaries, but during the last “seven bad years,” as Kaveh put it, the government has reduced support to higher education by 25 percent.

One result has been that faculty slots have been frozen at all Israeli universities, which means that retiring or departing professors are not being replaced.

Another drawback is that there are no positions available for Israelis who have finished their studies or taken faculty positions at foreign universities but want to return home.

The situation has become so confrontational, that the country’s professors went out on a three-month strike last winter, with Kaveh, as immediate past chairman of the Council of Israeli University Presidents, playing a key role in negotiations with the government.

Some figures point to the discrepancy in funding between Israeli and American universities. The Israeli government budget for all the country’s universities, with their 250,000 students, comes to $1 billion a year, Kaveh said.

By contrast, the University of California, with 10 campuses and 220,000 students, runs on an $18 billion operating budget.

Unless the Israeli government turns its attention to the problem and restores the cut funds, the country’s universities will likely shut down in October or November, Kaveh warned.

He brightened as he returned to discussing the fundamental mission of Bar-Ilan.

“We generally think of the B.A. as the bachelor of arts degree,” he said. “I like to think that B.A. stands for Ben Adam, the Hebrew term for mensch. That’s our real mission, to create a graduating class of menschen.”

Pupils Vote Yes on Democratic School


Under a classroom’s fluorescent lights, students and teachers scramble to find seats. An important “Parliament session” is under way as together, they hammer out a plan for allocating the school’s activities budget.

The scene is the Hadera Democratic School in Israel, where students take an equal role in deciding not only how and what to study but how the school is run.

As they debate how to spend the $27,000 activities budget, one student writes in neat letters at the top of the blackboard, “order of speakers.” A debate soon breaks out over how much money to spend on the school’s music department, and whether it’s worth purchasing additional acoustic equipment.

Next, the drama teacher asks for additional funds to allow students to see professional theater productions.

One by one, everyone in the room is heard. After much wrangling, a budget is produced for the school year.

The Hadera Democratic School, which receives funding from both public and private sources, was the first of its kind in Israel. Since its founding in 1987 in this city about 60 kilometers north of Tel Aviv, 23 other schools have opened around the country based on its model of democratic education, in which student participation and choice is emphasized.

With its relatively large number of democratic schools, Israel is considered a groundbreaker and leader in the field internationally.

There is growing interest in alternative schools in Israel, where the public school system is mired in a crisis born of poor teaching and disciplinary problems. The Hadera Democratic School has 350 students, with hundreds more on a waiting list.

Most of the students are secular and come from a variety of economic backgrounds. Scholarships help students from poorer families pay the annual tuition of approximately $1,200.

Among the school’s most famous alumni is Gal Fridman, the windsurfer who won Israel’s first Olympic gold medal in 2004.

Based on the idea that children are naturally curious and want to learn, the democratic schools focus on respecting the individual. There is close teacher-student interaction, and teachers — called “educators” by the students — mentor 15 students, in addition to their classroom duties.

With their elders’ help, students guide their own education. The goal is to instill in children the notion that they’re responsible for their choices.

There are no required classes, no grades or required tests. Staff and students are treated as equals and share in school decisions, sitting on a variety of committees that range from the school parliament to a teacher selection committee and a field trip committee.

Teachers say the committees are a key part of the education, teaching students how to analyze situations and make choices: “All these things they normally never have a chance to do,” said Aviva Golan, one of the teachers.

On the field trip committee, for example, it’s the students who hire the bus, organize the food and choose where to go.

Golan, who taught in a traditional school before coming to the Hadera Democratic School, no longer believes in conventional education.

“It’s bankrupt, and I believe children only learn from choice, not when they’re forced,” she said.

At traditional schools, she said, “I saw how I fought with kids instead of teaching them — the whole time telling them to be quiet. I believe kids need to move and play. It’s where the real things happen for them.”

The school itself hums with activity. Everywhere, students — from preschoolers to high school seniors — seem to be on the move. One girl reads a novel on a wooden bench. There are children juggling in the courtyard, while others bounce on pogo sticks.

On break, a group of boys plays soccer in the long sandy field in the center of the campus’ brightly painted buildings. Other students work in the computer lab, housed underground in a concrete bomb shelter.

Mike Moss, 17, came to the school as a disgruntled 11-year-old who was bored and restless in his regular school. He soon felt stimulated in the Hadera school and became active in the music and drama departments.

“I feel I would not be doing half the things I am doing here — preparing for matriculation, the music, the friendships — if I had stayed at regular school,” he said.

However, the Hadera school isn’t for everyone, Moss explained. He said students at the school need self-discipline and open minds.

Chen Shoham, 17, said the school has taught her to take responsibility for her education and her life.

“It’s about freedom as an individual and freedom of choice,” she said. “I do what I want and what I need to do. I’m responsible for my life.”

Shoham sits on the budget committee and helps oversee the budget requests each class submits.

“I’ve learned about priorities,” she said.

Traditional subjects such as math, English and history are taught, but it’s up to the students to decide if they’ll take them. Those who want to can study for the high school matriculation exam, which they need to pass with the highest possible marks to get into college.

The school’s principal, Rami Abramovich, said the students do well on the matriculation exam, but the school doesn’t keep data on how many students pass, because it doesn’t consider the matriculation exam a proper measure of whether a student has been educated well.

Students at the school speak of the value of learning outside of class — from philosophical conversations about the meaning of life to playing in a jazz band.

In contrast to the mainstream Israeli school system, there’s hardly any violence at the Hadera Democratic School.

“It’s because kids don’t feel the need to rebel against anything,” Shoham said.

Parents say they’re relieved to have found a setting where their children can thrive academically and socially.

“We think that regular public schools limit children,” said Hadass Gertman, a performance artist whose 8-year-old daughter attends the Hadera Democratic School. “We heard of children going through very bad experiences in public school, and we wanted her to enjoy learning, to enjoy school.”

Sitting outside the small, detached concrete building where he teaches 4- to 6-year-olds, Ron Vangrick spoke of being drawn to the job after growing disappointed with the mainstream educational framework.

“Education is going through a deep crisis because of a lack of relevance of what were once traditional goals,” such as treating others with respect, he said.

He believes that the unique atmosphere at the Hadera Democratic School contributes to the learning process.

“There’s a feeling of home here,” he explained. “It’s a relatively small place. There’s an atmosphere of living within a tribe. Kids of different ages are together and interact with respect and warmth. There is a feeling of childhood that is very powerful here.”

Abramovich, the principal, said the school works because it allows children to discover their own strengths. There’s learning in everything, he said — from the geometry of passing the ball on the soccer field to the negotiations behind staging a school play.

“Every child has his path and rhythm,” he stressed. “It’s a matter of finding it.”

 

Title VI Debate Focus on Resource Centers


U.S. lawmakers and academics are engaged in fierce debate over the renewal of Title VI of the Higher Education Act.

Under Title VI, select universities get federal funding and prestigious designation as national resource centers for the study of places and languages the government deems vital for meeting global challenges.

The legislation was first enacted in 1958, during the height of the Cold War, as part of the National Defense Education Act. Its purpose, according to its framers, was to ensure “trained manpower of sufficient quality and quantity to meet the national defense needs of the United States.”

National defense, according to current Department of Education publications, “remains central to the programs 40 years after their inception.”

Critics seeking to amend the legislation contend that universities often promote anti-American and anti-Israel biases and do not merit federal funds that were intended to serve American interests.

Many academics worry that restrictions will violate academic freedoms.

While Title VI may have had a noble purpose, it does not work in practice, according to Middle East scholar Martin Kramer. He analyzed Middle East studies centers and the work of the Title VI national resource centers in his 2001 book, “Ivory Towers on Sand — The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America.”

Kramer was the first to charge that using Title VI monies as a base, many Middle East studies departments pushed an anti-American, anti-Israeli, anti-Semitic and pro-Palestinian agenda on students and faculty.

This “group think” required obeisance, Kramer said, to what he described as the anti-Western “post-colonialist” beliefs of people like Edward Said, the late Palestinian activist and Columbia University professor of comparative literature.

At the same time, these academics denigrated the work of prominent mainstream Middle East scholars, such as Bernard Lewis, the Princeton University professor emeritus, as too pro-Western.

Kramer wrote that these departments encouraged a worldview in which instruction about Israel is twisted and degraded, while instruction about the United States eliminates positive and patriotic references.

The negative emphasis often found in these departments is like “teaching about the United States through the lens of what happened at Abu Ghraib prison” in Baghdad, said Sarah Stern, director of the Washington office for governmental and public affairs of the American Jewish Congress, which formally protested Title VI educational practices to the U.S. Department of Education.

“And it’s teaching about Israel through the lens of Deir Yassin,” she said, referring to an infamous battle during Israel’s War of Independence in which Jewish militias allegedly murdered Arab civilians.

In written testimony submitted to Congress in 2003, the then-director of Georgetown’s national resource center on the Middle East, Barbara Stowasser, and a colleague, defended the work of Georgetown’s national resource centers.

“We have had scholars working at our centers who have come to differing conclusions on an array of issues, as one would expect in an academic setting which is premised on the principle of academic freedom and the belief that rigorous research and serious intellectual discussion are important to informing both our students and others who benefit from contact with the work of our centers.

“We would make the point, however, that in the process, our centers’ work has been balanced and reflective of diverse views,” they wrote.

Legislation introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives this session by Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio) would create an advisory board to observe the workings of Title VI and report to Congress. Academic associations oppose the legislation as an attack on free speech and academic freedom.

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce recently passed the legislation as part of the Higher Education reauthorization bill, but it has yet to pass the full House.

In the Senate, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) attached a different version of the legislation to the Higher Education reauthorization bill. The Senate version does not include an advisory board provision, but it does require a survey of national and defense agencies to determine what they most need from the university community, with the assumption being that it is Arabic speakers.

The Senate version also requires an objective grievance procedure if university students feel they’re being discriminated against. And it requires schools to show how many students who have studied in these resource centers actually go into national security and defense fields.

The House and the Senate are now slated to try to resolve the different versions of the legislation.

 


Tainted Teachings

Is an Israel Brain Drain Nigh?


I was born in Haifa in 1947, the year Israel was recognized as an independent state by the United Nations, and grew up in the newly born country in the mid-1950s. There was little wealth in Israel at that time, and my family was not among the wealthy few. Nevertheless, I was fortunate in having access to a superb public education system, from my earliest school days through advanced professional studies at Hebrew University and at the Technion.

Today, Israel is much wealthier, but I doubt that a child like me would have the few, but high-quality opportunities I had.

A quiet crisis is unfolding here. It’s grabbing few headlines and it’s rarely the stuff of public debate. But its impact on the nation’s future is as far-reaching as the subjects that monopolize the news. I am referring to the education — or more correctly the lack of education — Israel is offering its young people. Pounded by budget cuts, the vaunted educational system we built during the early days is deteriorating. It is failing our youth today, and will fail the entire nation tomorrow. This process started in the late 1960s, but it is clearly accelerating today.

Just a few of the latest numbers chronicle the shocking decline. Israel ranks 28 out of 29 Western countries in the most recent report in “Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study”; in the 1970s, Israel ranked first. In the Israel Defense Forces only 32 percent of those tested earned satisfactory scores in reading comprehension examinations in 2003, down from 60 percent in the 1980s, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported. Finally, Israel has the largest gap between rich and poor students in the Western world, according to Deputy Minister of Education, Culture and Sport Michael Melchior. As always, the poor far outnumber the rich, which means fewer of Israel’s students are getting the education they need.

Unless rapidly corrected, this choking of brainpower will soon erase the admirable progress Israel has made in joining the First World. It will destroy the opportunities and the future that Israel’s people deserve. It will also decimate the great source of pride Israel has bestowed on Jewish communities around the world.

As everyone recognizes by now, the era of Jaffa oranges and winter-grown roses is long gone; what turbocharged the nation’s economy was its ability to constantly innovate new science and technology-based products and processes, and market them successfully worldwide.

Here’s a really dismaying fact: even if Israel’s education and talent were maintained at the current level, it would have great difficulty retaining its position in the global science-and-technology-based economy. That’s because the competition is becoming unimaginably stiffer. Some 3 billion people from India, China and South Korea have joined the global technology stage, threatening to leave even the United States and Western Europe behind. Israel can never hope to compete quantitatively and directly with such numbers; it can only compete with exceptional quality. Yet, while everyone is boldly forging ahead, Israel is already far behind where it was decades ago.

It takes 20 years or more to educate a top engineer, chemist or physicist, and almost four decades to turn a scientist into a senior university academic staff member. This time scale is far beyond the horizon of Israel’s current leaders who live between parliamentarian elections. Long before young people begin their professional studies at universities, they must be given a solid grounding in mathematics, basic sciences and language skills, as well as a broad knowledge in history, literature and music, all of which undergird their future studies. But as the numbers indicate, Israel’s young students rank at the bottom of the industrialized world.

At the university level, world-class scientists and state-of-the-art equipment, combined with years of dedicated teaching, mentoring and study are necessary to turn out the superb scientists, engineers and medical doctors the world demands. For now, Israel’s universities are barely coping, but shortsighted government policies are imposing stiff cutbacks in funding, putting world-class education beyond the reach of the next generation and endangering the nation’s future.

The problem is less one of budget and more one of national priorities and changing culture. The founders of the country, in particular David Ben-Gurion, were farsighted, and could handle multiple major long-term tasks simultaneously. Thus, they built a single national army, an advanced health system, and a superb state-funded educational system while absorbing millions of immigrants. Sadly, that is not the case today. Science and technology promise to transform every aspect of business, of government, of society — of life itself. We need to have successful and respected poets and artists, historians and archeologists, musicians and philosophers, social workers and farmers, to support us all, physically as well as spiritually, and to build a pluralistic nation. Yet, the world’s economy will belong — even more than today — to the nations with a highly educated, creative, entrepreneurial cadre of scientists and engineers. Israel’s educational system is failing at preparing its young people for this world. This places the nation in as much danger from within as it’s ever been from without.

Meeting the challenges requires a concerted, focused and immediate response. At this dangerous juncture, the government must make education a high national priority. Earmarked support from Jewish communities worldwide is now more crucial than ever. Only if Israel will be able to supply the world’s best-trained, most creative and knowledgeable workers will the nation’s economic independence and social progress will be assured.

The tide is rising. The only solution is to reach for higher ground.

Technion professor Aaron Ciechanover shared the 2004 Nobel Prize in chemistry with Technion professor Avram Hershko and professor Irwin A. Rose of the University of California in Irvine. They are Israel’s first Nobel laureates in science.

 

Federation Expects to Aid Ethiopian Jews


The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles expects to join
half a dozen Jewish federations across the United States this week in an
emergency allocation of nearly $250,000 for endangered members of the Falash
Mura community in Ethiopia.

The L.A. Federation has allocated $40,000, pending expected
approval from board members, organization President John Fishel said. Other
federations contributing include New York and Washington, D.C., he said.

The money will go to support feeding programs and related
activities of the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ) in Addis
Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, and in Gondar, the major city in the northern
region of the country, where many Falash Mura live.

“This group of people is in need,” Fishel said. “They’re
very vulnerable and poor and want to make aliyah. We want to help Jews in need
everywhere.”

For Fishel, helping his African Jewish brethren is personal.
In November, he visited Ethiopia for four days and got a close-up view of the
privation experienced by the estimated 25,000 Jews in the country who are
hoping to emigrate. The poverty, he said, is “unfathomable.”

The federations’ money will be sent to NACOEJ through the
American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), overseas arm of the
American Jewish community, which runs several programs for the Falash Mura in Ethiopia
and serves as the usual conduit for the American Jewish federations’ network
support for Jewry abroad.

This marks the first time that the federation system has
provided significant funding via NACOEJ, which has charged that the
establishment organizations have not acted aggressively enough on behalf of
Ethiopian Jewry. NACOEJ and the JDC both operate humanitarian service programs
in Ethiopia but often are at odds.

Falash Mura, Ethiopians with Jewish roots, are descendants
of people who converted a century ago to Christianity, the country’s dominant
religion. They have attempted in recent years to return to Judaism and settle
in Israel.

Estimates of the number of Falash Mura remaining in Ethiopia,
left behind when Israel airlifted the rest of Ethiopian Jewry in 1984 and 1991
rescue missions, range between 15,000 and 25,000.

NACOEJ, a New York-based grass-roots organization that has
run advocacy programs in Israel and social welfare programs in Ethiopia for two
decades, recently reported that its feeding programs, which provide basic
sustenance for most of the Falash Mura in Addis Ababa and Gondar, would have to
close its operations because of a lack of funding after the death of a major
donor.

“We needed to make certain that the feeding programs were
sustained,” said John Ruskay, UJA-Federation of New York executive vice
president. “We could not allow these programs to be closed.”

The federations’ allocation from an emergency appropriations
fund will be sent “as quickly as they [NACOEJ] need it,” guaranteeing that no
meals are missed at the feeding centers, Ruskay said.

While some politicians and religious authorities in Israel
have questioned the Jewishness of the Falash Mura, several prominent rabbis,
including the current and previous chief rabbis, have ruled that the Falash
Mura are authentic Jews and are entitled to be brought to Israel.

About 200 to 250 Ethiopians a month have made aliyah over
the last dozen years, but the Israeli government, following a lobbying campaign
on behalf of the Falash Mura, pledged last year to increase the pace. The flow
has not increased, Falash Mura advocates say. The government says it lacks the
funds or facilities to bring more to Israel.

Last week the government, in response to a High Court of
Justice petition, defended its decision not to bring the Falash Mura under the
Law of Return, declaring that the law does not apply to those who convert out
of Judaism. The government said it follows a secular rather than a halachic
definition of who is a Jew.

“It’s crazy that the [government] is disregarding the ruling
of the chief rabbi,” said Hagai Ashlagi, a lawyer on the board of the Tebeka
Center for Legal Aid and Advocacy for Ethiopian Jews in Israel. “They say we
know better than you. If the chief rabbi of Israel says they are Jews, why
aren’t they here?”

“All those in Ethiopia are eager to be in Israel,” according
to a recent NACOEJ newsletter. They are “still waiting to make aliyah, still
hungry, still living in appalling circumstances.”

NACOEJ did not return a call for comment on the emergency
allocations.

The funding, according to a UJA-Federation of New York
statement, “will provide daily meals to thousands of … mothers and children
[from birth to age 6] in danger of suffering malnutrition, disease and death.”

Other federations that took part in the NACOEJ funding are
Boston, Cleveland, MetroWest of New Jersey and Philadelphia.

“If the federation system did not step up during this
crucial period,” Ruskay said, “children and mothers would lose their daily
food.”

Senior Writer Marc Ballon contributed to this report. Â

Fine-Tuning


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s impending visit to Israel could be a win-win for the governor, the Los Angeles Jewish community and for Israel, but first some fine-tuning is in order.

As we reported last week, the governor is scheduled to travel to Jerusalem May 2 to participate in groundbreaking ceremonies there for the $150 million Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance.

But as soon as reports circulated that the visit was on, eyebrows started shooting skyward. By the middle of this week, it looked like the governor’s trip to the Land of Milk and Honey was going to include a side order of sour grapes.

Why, asked some local Jews, did such a high-profile visit seem to exclude representation of a wider swath of the California Jewish community? Why should one Jewish organization take up the bulk of the governor’s agenda? Why was a trip by a politician not organized first through the normal political channels?

"He’s not some star popping in to help out some friends," said one local activist, clearly disgruntled. "He’s the governor of the State of California visiting the State of Israel." (This trip is privately funded, and does not use taxpayers’ money.)

Some of the concerns found their way into a March 24 Los Angeles Times article about the trip. The story, with its implication that the trip was stepping on toes and upsetting protocol, infuriated some Wiesenthal Center supporters.

"I don’t get it," one of them told me. "Here this popular governor is going to Israel at a time when Israel really needs all the friends it can get, and people are turning it into an issue. I’ve had it with the Jews."

You know emotions are running hot when Museum of Tolerance supporters start getting anti-Semitic.

But, exasperated joking aside, the Jerusalem brouhaha does threaten to mar what can be a flat-out success for all parties. So far, the mess is hardly anything that the governor’s office can’t quickly clean up. One experienced local pol — not Jewish — observed the dust-up with dispassion: "Arnold has a mix of politically experienced and politically inexperienced people on his payroll," he said.

When it comes to little things like visits to foreign countries, experience helps.

Simon Wiesenthal Center dean and founder Rabbi Marvin Hier, who initiated the Jerusalem museum project, said he just can’t comprehend some of the reports and rumors that are circulating about the visit.

Most disturbing is the idea that the visit is some kind of quid pro quo. In the heat of the bitter recall campaign that put Schwarzenegger in office, Hier reiterated the results of a Wiesenthal Center investigation that cleared the Austrian-born governor’s late father, Gustav Schwarzenegger, of involvement in any World War II-era war crimes.

If the trip is seen as payback, it demeans both the governor and the center. "Quid pro quo applies when you don’t know a person," Hier told me by phone. "I’ve known the governor for 20 years. He has had cocktail parties and parlor meetings for us. He has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to us and raised millions. He has participated in events of much less importance than [the groundbreaking], so it would be unusual if he didn’t participate in this."

Furthermore, Hier added, the center released all records it found pertaining to Schwarzenegger’s father to the media for public review.

The idea for trip is a year and a half old, Hier said. Schwarzenegger attended a parlor meeting in Miami for the Jerusalem museum long before his run for governor. At that meeting, Schwarzenegger promised to attend.

"He said, ‘You don’t have to tell me I’m going, I’m going,’" Hier said.

There has not been any indication that the recent State Department travel advisory against Israel and the prospect of violence in the wake of the assassination of Shiekh Ahmed Yassin will deter the governor. A spokesperson at the governor’s office said that trip was still in the planning stages, as are responses to security concerns.

"Everything is still being determined," the spokesperson said.

As to whether the Wiesenthal Center should have made sure to bring Israelis and local Jewish leaders in on the trip, Hier said he could only take responsibility for the part of the visit that concerned the groundbreaking ceremony and a Museum of Tolerance fundraising dinner that the governor was scheduled to attend. (The governor’s office would not confirm his attendance at the latter event.)

"I assume he has other components to his trip," Hier said. "We’ve always known he was going to do other things."

All official visits by governors include a meeting with the prime minister — true whether the governor is from California or Kansas — and a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum. (The Museum of Tolerance, which is being designed by Frank Gehry, will have no Holocaust-related exhibit.)

"My interest is that the governor is going to have an official, formal element to his visit to Israel," Israel Consul General Yuval Rotem said. The governor’s office said an itinerary is still in formation, and its release is two to three weeks off.

"Of course that should take place," said Hier, referring to a meeting between Schwarzenegger and the prime minister, "but I’m not involved in that."

Including other community leaders in the festivities surrounding the groundbreaking was not an option, Hier said. Invitees are people whom the center hopes will contribute toward the $200 million price tag of the museum and its endowment. So far, the center has raised $75 million for the project.

"On this occasion the shoe didn’t fit," Hier said. "We’re looking for prospects."

It’s no secret that a dram or two of bad blood has flowed between the Wiesenthal Center and some quarters of the community ever since Hier established the center and the museum here. As the center has become more of a presence in Jewish Los Angeles — many in the media see it as the major Jewish presence here — Hier and other Jewish leaders have worked to forge warmer bonds. Indeed, not everyone is ticked. "I think it’s fine," said Mel Levine, chairman of the Jewish Community Relations Council of The Jewish Federation, regarding the trip. Levine, himself a former congressman, did not think a promise made as a private citizen should necessarily be negated once in public service.

"The governor, long before he was governor, was a supporter of the Museum of Tolerance here," he said, "and I believe it’s good whenever public officials go to Israel."

Officially, then, many community leaders are adopting a far-from-antagonistic approach to the visit. They want the governor, in the words of one activist, to see that "there’s more to the Jewish community than Marvin Hier," but they also don’t want to create any ill will so early in the administration. That makes sense. There are just too many important communal issues — poverty relief, medical funding, homeland security, to name a few — that rate higher on the agenda than this visit.

They also understand that, to borrow from the season we’re fast approaching, this governor is different from all other governors. "He doesn’t see himself as a politician," said the local pol, "and so far people don’t see him as one." Just as Schwarzenegger’s campaign circumvented normal channels of campaigning, so too his governance can bend the rules.

But as the governor moves forward, it must be with an understanding that as good a friend as he has in Hier, he has the potential to make many more in the Jewish community.

Avi Chai Grant Saves Birthright


A new grant of $7 million to Birthright Israel is breathing new life into the cash-strapped program, allowing Birthright to more than double the number of slots available for this summer’s tours.

The future of Birthright — which provides free trips to Israel for Diaspora young adults — was thrown into question recently as it became clear that its sponsors were not going to meet their financial commitments to the organization for 2004.

The major drop in funding came from the Israeli government, which reduced its funding for Birthright to a token amount for 2004 due to budget constraints. That prompted Birthright to reduce its available slots this summer to 3,500.

Now, with a new "challenge grant" of $7 million from the Avi Chai Foundation, Birthright and Avi Chai are hoping the group of 14 Jewish philanthropists who helped launch Birthright will match the Avi Chai grant.

Already, the group has notified its trip providers that it will now be able to bring 8,200 young Jews to Israel this summer.

Avi Chai officials said foundation members felt compelled to contribute the money to make up for the Israeli government’s drastic slash in Birthright funding.

"[We] believed it was unfortunate for the program to have to suffer a significant reduction in the number of participants just as Birthright was reaching full strength," the foundation said in a news statement.

Birthright officials reacted to the announcement with delight.

"We are extraordinarily grateful to Avi Chai, in whom we have great respect," said philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, one of Birthright’s founders and principal funders.

Steinhardt said the foundation agreed to become a Birthright philanthropic partner and is planning to give an additional $1 million per year for each of the next five years of the program.

When Birthright was launched, the three major sponsors of the program — the Israeli government, a group of Jewish philanthropists and the North American Jewish federation system — agreed to divide evenly the funding for the $210 million, five-year program.

Each party originally committed to contributing $70 million for the first five years. However, citing severe budget constraints, Israel cut its funding this year to $400,000, from $9 million the previous year.

Compounding Birthright’s financial woes, the federation system now plans to pay a total of only $35 million, of which it is currently short $4 million to $5 million, officials say. As a result, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the overseas partner of the United Jewish Communities federation umbrella group, has increased its contribution to the program to make up for the shortfall.

Since the program began, it has brought some 60,000 Diaspora youth between the ages of 18 and 26 to Israel for free 10-day guided trips of the country. For many, it is their first trip to Israel. Only youth who never before have been on a peer tour of the country are eligible to participate.

The ambitious program has been hailed as a revolutionary way to help infuse Diaspora youth with a strong Jewish identity, a sense of connection to Israel and the drive to connect with their own Jewish communities back home.

Before Tuesday’s announcement of the $7 million grant, Birthright’s future seemed uncertain.

Although Birthright took 10,000 young Jews to Israel this winter, including 8,000 from North America, the program was forced to turn away thousands more who were eligible because of a funding crunch, program officials said.

In its statement, Avi Chai said it wants to be a partner with the philanthropists backing Birthright Israel for the next five years and said it was awaiting word from the Israeli government on future commitment to the program.

Avi Chai also said foundation members hoped that the Jewish federations in North America and Europe would fulfill their pledge to provide one-third of the program’s funding.

Avi Chai is a private foundation that funds educational programs and describes itself as "committed to the perpetuation of the Jewish people, Judaism and the centrality of the State of Israel to the Jewish people."

Established in 1984, it has offices in New York and Jerusalem.

JTA staff writer Rachel Pomerance in New York contributed to this report.

Grappling With Competing Needs


While most participants at the North American Jewish federation system’s annual conference were happy just to be in Israel this week, the network’s decision makers were grappling with another matter — funding for overseas partners.

The issue has become so contentious, in fact, that Israel’s prime minister decided to step in.

In a Sunday afternoon meeting with representatives of the United Jewish Communities (UJC) committee that decides overseas funding priorities, participants said Ariel Sharon said, “You are my guests, so I am asking you to make Israel your No. 1 priority for funding. If you weren’t my guests, I would demand it.”

The message comes as the UJC, the federation umbrella organization, prepares to determine allocations to its two main overseas beneficiaries: the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which aids distressed Jews overseas, and the Jewish Agency for Israel, which runs immigration and absorption in Israel and Zionist education worldwide.

It also comes amid increasing concern that local federations, focused more on local needs, are allocating fewer dollars to overseas needs in general — below the allocation recommendations that the UJC’s Overseas Needs Assessment and Distribution Committee (ONAD) has been submitting to UJC’s member federations.

For decades, the federation system has followed a 75/25 split in funding the Jewish Agency and the JDC, with 75 percent going to the Jewish Agency.

With aliyah down, however, ONAD recently recommended allocating an additional $13 million to the JDC, possibly altering the customary division.

Last year, according to the JDC, the UJC provided it with roughly $45 million, a few million short of the amount promised.

The Jewish Agency said the UJC provided it with $143 million, $20 million short of what was promised.

The General Assembly, which has drawn some 4,000 lay and professional leaders of federations from all over North America, falls between two important developments on the matter. Earlier this month, ONAD issued new overseas recommendations, and a vote on the issue is scheduled for Dec. 8.

Some say Sharon’s appeal — essentially for Jewish Agency funding — came at the behest of the agency’s chairman, Sallai Meridor.

Asked how Sharon’s pitch might influence ONAD’s decision, the committee chairman, Steven Klinghoffer, said, “It will be interesting to watch how they respond.”

He also said that ONAD’s recommendations are “not determinative of any kind of outcome,” and that more funds for the JDC wouldn’t necessarily mean less for the Jewish Agency.

“There’s a lot of different ways to skin the cat,” Klinghoffer said.

One member of ONAD, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Sharon’s remarks were not helpful.

“It was almost like blackmail,” she said. “I was truly offended by his remarks.” Sharon was “talking to a group of very dedicated leaders in the Jewish community who have never abandoned Israel,” she said. “To say that you owe us is not the way to win friends and influence people, as far as I’m concerned.”

But Sharon isn’t the only one using the gathering of North Americans to lobby for the Jewish Agency, which ostensibly has more to lose than the JDC in the upcoming ONAD decision.

In his remarks at the Jewish Agency’s opening plenary last Friday, Meridor spoke of the “serious challenge” of obtaining enough funds from American Jewry for immigration and absorption in Israel’s current economic climate.

He called it “close to a miracle” that the Jewish Agency was bringing some 20,000 immigrants to Israel this year, and claimed that many more are awaiting the chance to make aliyah.

For its part, the JDC says it is not campaigning for funds at the conference.

“I’m not lobbying people. Absolutely not,” said Steven Schwager, JDC’s executive vice president. “The JDC has put its faith in the ONAD process.”

He said the 18 communities involved in the ONAD process “will review all the information that has been presented and all of the facts and will consider all of the site visits that they made and will come to a fair and appropriate conclusion.”

Still, talk about overseas funding has been a steady undercurrent at the General Assembly, figuring prominently in meetings and in corridor conversation among decision makers.

In addition, delegates spent the day on Tuesday visiting a variety of programs throughout the country, from social-service programs for new immigrants to educational programs, many of which get at least part of their funding from the North American federation system via the Jewish Agency or the JDC.

At a meeting of the UJC’s board of governors and delegate assembly on Monday, the group pledged to continue funding its overseas beneficiaries and to “increase its efforts in the advocacy for allocations in support of overseas needs.”

This appeared to be a nod to the common gripe that the system doesn’t push hard enough for funds for its overseas partners.

Some fault the federation system for allegedly establishing a competition between the JDC and the Jewish Agency and failing to create an overseas advocacy committee to secure enough funds for both groups.

Klinghoffer admits that the process is fraught with “friction and difficulty” and “political land mines,” but says it is “designed to meet the needs of the Jewish people throughout the world.”

Indeed, at the last meeting of the UJC’s executive committee, in Chicago in September, board chairman Robert Goldberg called ONAD a “failure.”

ONAD was created when the Council of Jewish Federations, the United Jewish Appeal and the United Israel Appeal merged to form the UJC four years ago. The establishment of ONAD was an attempt to reverse a trend of decreased giving to overseas needs. That hasn’t happened, however. The system has delayed establishing an advocacy committee to encourage federations to give to the UJC’s overseas partners. And because several federations did not comply with ONAD recommendations, the UJC has fallen short on the amount it planned to provide the groups.

That has caused the JDC to do its own advocacy work: Schwager has visited individual federations around North America, encouraging them to allocate more for overseas needs.

Some observers say the ONAD process has cost the UJC dearly in terms of the time and energy of its professionals and the financial strain on its overseas agencies.

ONAD was scheduled for an initial review after five years, a juncture that is quickly approaching. Some say it’s simply a matter of making overseas needs a priority. Others anticipate reform, if not a complete overhaul, at that time.

Israeli Surfs New Turf


Windsurfer Gal Friedman became the first Israeli to win the gold medal at the World Mistral Sailboard Championships, held in Pattaya, Thailand, on Sunday, Dec. 15. Out of the 11 races in the regatta, Friedman won four and in two more he placed second, making it the best-ever achievement for an Israeli windsurfer.

Friedman’s achievement wasn’t always so certain. Although he had won a bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, his fierce rival, Amit Inbar, represented Israel at the Sydney Games in 2000. Friedman’s disappointment at being overlooked in favor of Inbar led him to rethink his future, and he took off two years, preferring to concentrate on other sports, such as mountain biking.

Once the Sydney Games ended, Friedman started thinking about making a comeback. At the same time, Inbar decided to quit, but Friedman refused to attend the trials set by the Sailing Association for choosing a team for the European championships. While younger Israeli windsurfers such as Tal Machuro, Yoni Ben-Zeev and Alex Hebner competed against each other, Friedman — with the help of the Elite Sports Unit and the agreement of the Sailing Association — received funding to train intensively with Nikos Kaklamanakis, the gold medalist in the last two Olympics.

Friedman credits much of his recent success to his coach, American Mike Gebhardt. "He has helped me with the small things, the things which differentiate between the top places and the rest. Gebhardt is himself a former Olympic medalist, and his experience has helped me — mostly in motivating me to believe that I can win," Friedman said.

"He has proved his great potential. He has the attributes of a champion," an ecstatic Gebhardt said Sunday of Friedman. "He has great technique and a strong character, but he needs some moral support to make him even better," he said.

Friedman’s title places him as a leading contender among Israelis going for an Olympic medal in the 2004 Athens Games, alongside pole vaulter Alex Averbukh and kayaker Mikhail Kalganov.

Despite the fact that he was in 19th place after his first race in Thailand, Friedman got back on course on Sunday, took the lead on the second day of competition and did not look back. "I didn’t try to go for a medal, I went for the gold," he said. "This was a long and tough event, but I stayed close to the title all the way through. I have had a good year. It is very difficult to be second in Europe and world champion in the same year, but I have done it, and I have proved that I am part of the leading group in the world." — Staff Report

Democracy in the Mideast?


President George W. Bush is certainly putting his money where his mouth is. Last week, the State Department announced it will invest $25 million to promote democracy throughout the Arab world. The goals of the program, which will train political advocates, journalists and others, are economic reform and private sector development, education, promotion of civil society and respect for the rule of law.

But is throwing money at the problem enough? Bush’s initiative begs the question: How might democracy blossom in a culture where none has existed in the past? Will it flourish organically, or will it require some gentle prodding, such as with the butt of a gun, for example?

Historically, democracies have emerged from centuries of dictatorships and monarchies. Some have become democracies only after unconditional surrender (Japan and Germany). Others have seemed to choose democracy without any formal surrender (Russia). What explains this difference?

Part of the answer may lie in timing. Russia is the most recent of the three democracies I’ve mentioned. Unlike the others, Russia became a democracy during the media age, and during the beginning of the globalization of information.

Similarly, forces are now emerging that may encourage the Arab world to democracy. Here are some:

(1) Globalization and the Internet. As Thomas Friedman explains in his new book "The Lexus and the Olive Tree," we are seeing democratization of (a) financial markets; (b) technology; (c) information; and (d) politics. Until recently, the Arab world has successfully prevented Western news sources from "contaminating" their subjects, using brutal repression and controlling their media. But the Arab world can’t stop the Internet or satellite news. Saudi Arabia has recently instituted a policy of allowing access to the Internet to university students, albeit at limited speeds, and only for five minutes at a time. However, this may be the first crack in the dam.

(2) The Plight of Arab Women: One day, the media will turn its cameras to the barbaric manner in which the Arab world treats women. It will expose the Arab world’s ritualized female circumcision as a form of sexual control, use of rape as an official tool of punishment and execution of unmarried women for merely holding a man’s hand — to say nothing of women’s utter inability to participate in society. This exposure will create pressure on the Arab world to make other social reforms.

(3) Oil. This may be the biggest factor. Saudi Arabian Muhammad Al-Sabban, head of the senior economic advisory to the Saudi Oil Ministry, acknowledged that Arab oil will play a major role in the world’s energy mix only for the next 15 years, at most. Once this bargaining chip vanishes, the Arab world’s ability to act as a force of menace will diminish — like a school bully who suddenly shrinks a foot or two. What will also diminish is the West’s one reason to pander to the brutal dictatorships in the Arab world. So, too, will the non-oil-producing Arabs’ power wane (such as the Palestinians, Syrians and Egyptians), all of whom now enjoy the indirect benefits of the collective oil cudgel from their Arab brethren.

(4) Generally Accepted Democratic Principles. Here’s an irony: Despite their angry beating of the chest when it comes to the West, most Arab dictatorships actually claim to observe democratic principles. As brutal a dictator as Arafat is, for example, he still insists his people have chosen him in fair democratic elections, and that his press is "free." Dictators do this to appear as honest brokers to the outside world. This is like the embezzler who insists he zealously follows generally accepted accounting principles. He does so because he implicitly acknowledges the correctness of those principles. Similarly, in making their claims of democratic treatment of their people, are these dictators not actually acknowledging democracy as the "proper" form of rule? One day, the Arab people may ask: if our leaders praise democracy, then why aren’t we one?

Some will argue that these factors may topple the existing governments, but will lead, at best. to anarchy or greater fundamentalism. For democracy to occur, they will say the West’s intervention is necessary, as it was necessary after World War II. But the world has changed since then: everyone can now see what everyone else is doing, and everyone can more easily see how the other world lives. And so the factors that previously led to the democratization of Russia may also now lead to the organic democratization of the Arab world. For that to occur, we may only need to ensure the continuing globalization of information. And that is a force no Arab country can hope to stop.


Barak Lurie is an Israeli and American citizen and a specialist on Middle East affairs. He serves as general counsel for the Sterling Corp.

Fight Over UC Funds


Pro-Israel faculty at UCLA have launched a petition drive opposing a campaign to get the University of California system to divest itself of investments in corporations doing business in the Jewish state.

The petition comes in response to another faculty petition urging the UC system to withdraw the investments because of what it calls Israel’s "human rights violations."

Distributed throughout the UC system, the original divestment campaign last month called upon UC to withdraw some $54 million in corporate investments. "We believe that our university ought to use its influence — political and financial — to encourage the United States government and the government of Israel to respect the rights of the Palestinian people," reads the divestment document signed by more than 165 faculty members.

Some signatories compared Israel’s record with that of South Africa: "Divestment worked for South Africa, why not Israel?" wrote Susan M. Ervin-Trip of UC Berkeley.

During the apartheid-era, many American college students protested university support of U.S. corporations doing business in South Africa. The divestment movement was crucial in undermining the racist South African regime.

Many UCLA faculty members and students were appalled by comparisons of Israel to South Africa. "I thought it was reprehensible; it didn’t help the course of peace or serve any useful purpose to either side," said Professor Steven L. Spiegel, associate director of the Burkle Center for International Relations.

"The attempt to compare [Israel] to South Africa is absurd, inaccurate and false," Spiegel said.

UCLA Hillel drafted the counterpetition. It was based on a similar one started at Harvard and MIT that garnered over 6,000 signatures.

"We, University of California’s faculty, staff, students and alumni who support peace in the Middle East, oppose the misguided divestment petition calling for punitive actions by the U.S. government and our universities against the state of Israel," the UCLA version reads.

"A major purpose of the counterpetition is to demonstrate that there is broad opposition to divestment," said Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, director of UCLA Hillel. Seidler-Feller said the counterpetition has garnered some 160 signatures.

Many UCLA professors who signed the counterpetition believe that the original pro-divestment petitioners represent a minority of the UC faculty.

"I don’t think it is very controversial, because a very tiny group is making a lot of noise," Spiegel said. "There is not serious support for [divestment]."

It is difficult to measure the effect that both petitions have had on the atmosphere at UCLA, because they were circulated at the end of the academic year. But the controversy is indicative of how much the Middle East situation has invaded the campus.

"The original petition is a manifestation of a new political activism on college campuses," said David N. Myers, professor of Jewish history at UCLA. He added that he doesn’t believe this political activism is anti-Semitic.

Myers cited a recent survey on anti-Semitic attitudes by the Anti-Defamation League that said while 17 percent of Americans hold views about Jews that are "unquestionably anti-Semitic," only three percent of U.S. college and university students and five percent of faculty fall into the most anti-Semitic category.

As for the students, "I think they are glad that Hillel has taken the stance and has put the petition out there," said Robin Levine, UCLA Hillel program associate. "They’re glad that UCLA Hillel has taken the initiative."

Furthering Hillel’s efforts, students at UC Berkeley are creating a Web site that will streamline opposition by allowing online signing of the counterdivestment petition. The Web site is the work of the UC Justice Campaign, a grass-roots community project of the Akiva Movement, a student-run human rights and democratic values campus action group.

"It is not a pro-Israel action," said David Weinberg, director of the UC Justice Campaign. "We want students and other activists to feel that they can sign this and not be associated with an agenda."

In addition to online reading and signing of the petition, the site will offer downloadable hard-copy petition forms, a page where all signatures can be viewed, a signature counter, a frequently-asked-questions page and links to relevant articles.

"If we don’t do this kind of action, policy is going to be swayed forever," Weinberg said.

Answering the Call


Imagine a cellphone ringing and ringing. Put it in a backpack. Put the backpack next to the wreckage of a bus mangled by a bomb. A rescue worker reaches into the backpack to turn the cellphone off because he cannot bear to hear the voice on the other end of the line.

With that image, from an account given in Israeli papers, I asked my congregants on the first day of Passover to help our sisters and brothers in Israel. We cannot win Israel’s battles nor restore to life those who have died. But we can buy wheelchairs for the injured. We can pay for physical and emotional therapy for those whose lives are scarred by terror. We can provide social services for the shattered lives of the 400 children orphaned by the recent attacks.

As one of the most affluent and fortunate Jewish communities the world has ever known, we can give. God has blessed us; it is up to us to make that blessing matter.

Parvis Nazarian, the founder of Magbit, a Persian Jewish charitable organization, promised that Magbit would match whatever we raised up to $500,000. It seemed too ambitious a goal, but I announced it anyway, because the 1,800 worshippers in the sanctuary knew what was at stake.

Congregants and members of our community rose to pledge humanitarian aid to Israel. Children promised $10, $100, $1,000. Their parents pledged $2,500, $10,000, even $25,000.

The atmosphere was charged with the energy of a mitzvah that enabled us for a moment to escape the fear and frustration gripping our worldwide community. People raised their hands, stood up, called out.

I spun out the following scenario: One day Israel will be at peace. It may come to pass that you will be sitting at a restaurant in Jerusalem or waiting for a bus in Tel Aviv. An Israeli will sit next to you. As you talk, he will recount the losses that he and his family endured. Exchanging stories, he will discover that you come from Los Angeles.

“I know of a synagogue in Los Angeles,” he will say. “They paid for my surgery when I was wounded. Sinai Temple — do you know it?” That day in shul, we made such a future memory possible.

Soon, following the suggestion of board member Lili Shafai, the treasurer of Magbit, Abraham Simahee, stood up and publicly announced Magbit’s matching offer. In 25 minutes, we raised $700,000. With the matching gift we had almost $1.5 million for Israel. In 25 minutes. Inspired by the music of Craig Taubman, his band and our Cantor Joseph Gole, the congregation celebrated the moment by singing and dancing through the crowded sanctuary.

Thousands of envelopes have now been mailed to members who were not in attendance. The students in Sinai Temple religious school and Sinai Akiba Academy have joined the effort. When all the funds are in, we hope to have well over $2 million.

We will select (in consultation with advisers from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Magbit and a committee from our own congregation) organizations in Israel that specialize in aid to victims of terror. Our research has already begun to find institutions and agencies with little or no overhead. Donations must go directly to help those most in need.

It is not our obligation to finish the work, “Pirke Avot” reminds us. But how uplifting it is to make a meaningful beginning. As we joined together in singing “Am Yisroel Chai,” we affirmed that through God’s goodness and our passion, the people of Israel live.

It’s the Economy Again, Stupid


Will the religious right dominate the Washington agenda as a Republican president, backed by a mostly GOP Congress, takes the reins of government?

That scenario is on the minds of many Jewish leaders who worry that abortion, school prayer, vouchers and other issues championed by Christian conservatives will be the engine behind the 107th Congress.

Conservatives on Capitol Hill, led by House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas), have reinforced their fears by promising to press their partisan advantage to advance a wide range of conservative domestic issues.

Jewish leaders would do better to focus on Bill Clinton’s memorable 1992 campaign theme: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the bitter end to this year’s presidential election, the top issues of groups such as the Christian Coalition may not be front and center as the new Congress and administration try to find a way to govern amid political gridlock on Capitol Hill.

Instead, the administration is likely to focus at first on the economic changes it would like to implement — changes that are likely to garner bipartisan support but which could prove troublesome for Jewish organizations.

The social agenda of the religious right will enjoy only limited success when the new Congress gets to work.

School prayer amendments will be dead on arrival. School voucher plans may do better, thanks to support from some Democrats. Several voucher demonstration projects were passed in recent years but vetoed by President Bill Clinton; Bush supports vouchers, so the veto threat will disappear.

Some abortion restrictions may move through, but the evenly divided Senate will remain a major obstacle to any sweeping changes.

But the Bush administration can wreak considerable havoc on abortion rights through executive order. And the wild card remains the Supreme Court; a vacancy or two during the Bush administration would likely tip the balance on the Court on abortion.

New gun control legislation is unlikely, but so is any major pullback from laws already on the books; again, the Senate will be the major stumbling block.

Gary Bauer, the former leader of the Family Research Council whose bid for the Republican nomination was spurned by GOP primary voters, urged Bush this week not to give an inch on the conservative domestic agenda.

Bush is hearing much the same message from Republican leaders on the Hill. And his soon-to-be vice president, Richard Cheney, promised over the weekend that their administration will not abandon the interests of its core supporters.

But Bush is also being told that if he focuses on a narrow conservative agenda, the result will be bitter stalemate — not a political plus for a president whose margin of victory was thin to nonexistent.

If he does try to govern from the center, GOP moderates say, he will do better with some of his core economic issues.

But some of those issues could have much more immediate consequences for the Jewish community than the nexus of social issues pushed by the Christian right.

Bush’s campaign platform called for a $1.3 trillion tax cut, a demand Cheney recently called nonnegotiable. Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are divided; some support the huge, 10-year cut, others want to press for a series of smaller tax cuts.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will be looking for high-profile actions they can take that have a chance of bipartisan support, and tax cuts, supported by a significant number of Democrats, could top the list.

Most Jewish groups do not have official positions on the issue. At the same time, many Jewish leaders privately fear that anything more than token cuts could be a time bomb tossed into the middle of the nation’s social safety net.

Today, the federal treasury is flush, thanks to the record economic boom and the run-up in the stock market.

But the surplus will evaporate with astonishing speed if the economy skids.

Tax cuts in the coming year, many worry, will lead to a ballooning of the budget deficit when the economy slows. And that, in turn, could produce intense pressure to cut discretionary spending programs.

The programs most at risk are precisely those that the Jewish community successfully provides across the country, using government dollars along with philanthropic money: health and housing programs for the elderly, services for children and teens, vocational services, services for immigrants.

Big cuts could also jeopardize important foreign policy priorities of the Jewish community, starting with foreign aid to Israel.

Bush’s economic thinkers say the cuts will spur the economy and preserve the boom. But it’s a gamble; if they’re wrong, the government will quickly face a new deficit crisis and ferocious new pressure to cut vulnerable programs.

That, and not the religious right “values” agenda, is where the real action is likely to be for Jewish groups in 2001.

Starting Up


When a 30-something British financial investment manager took a few years off to study Jewish texts in Israel, he was struck by the differences between the financial and Jewish communal worlds.

“In the private sector, at the moment, committed young people with good ideas can find backing relatively easily, while in the Jewish world I see tremendous idealism and great creative thinking, but often tremendous obstacles to getting projects under way,” Nigel Savage said.

With funds from the Nash Family Foundation, Savage created Hazon, a fledgling New York-based organization that cultivates new Jewish projects, particularly ones that may have difficulty attracting funding from traditional sources.

Among the first projects: a cross-country bike ride to promote interest in Judaism and the environment, and a program to train female Torah scribes.

Savage wants Hazon, which means “vision” in Hebrew, to serve as a “venture-capital house for Jewish ideas.”

“Twentysomethings with a great idea don’t walk into Goldman Sachs, which isn’t really organized to help them,” he explained. “They go into a venture-capital house which nurtures them along the beginnings of their project and then, as it were, hands them over to Goldman Sachs when they’re at a different stage of organizational development.”

It’s the Jewish version of the venture philanthropy trend that is shaping the American nonprofit scene.

Applying the principles and techniques that have made Internet startups and other new companies so successful in recent years, a handful of foundations and young, affluent Jews are using money and know-how gained from the business world to create new Jewish initiatives.

They are placing special emphasis on empowering young people, whether as philanthropists, activists or beneficiaries of the new programs.

Martin Kaminer, 33, a New Yorker who heads an Internet distance-learning company, is working with the Jewish Education Service of North America and the United Jewish Communities to create a Manhattan incubator for people starting new projects benefiting the Jewish community.

Similarly, Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Walter and Elise Haas Foundation are joining forces to launch a national fellows program that will provide mentoring, support and $30,000 stipends for eight “social entrepreneur” Jews in their 20’s and 30’s.

The new efforts are even changing the language of philanthropy. Donors are called “partners,” grants are “investments” and the goal is not charity, but “social return.” But the differences are more than semantic: The new philanthropists are emphasizing training and mentorship just as much as dollars. And they are not afraid to take risks.

“This is an experiment,” said Kaminer, describing his incubator project, which will provide office space, computers, mentoring and training workshops to six people for two-year stints.

“By the time they emerge, some projects will be self-sufficient, some will be part of other organizations and some won’t work out.”

Brian Gaines, executive director of The Joshua Ventura fellowship program and himself a former Ben & Jerry’s franchise owner, echoed that approach.

“If even one out of the eight becomes the next Makor or the next great program that connects with people in some way, then I think we would have been successful,” he said, referring to a recently opened Manhattan cultural center that serves unaffiliated young Jews and is funded primarily by mega-donor Michael Steinhardt.

“Some people may say at the end, ‘My idea isn’t going to work, but I’m going to take what I learned here and apply it to B’nai B’rith or some other existing organization and make a difference there,’ ” Gaines said. “It’s about empowering people.”

The venture-philanthropy style differs dramatically from the more cautious and deliberative centralized Jewish federation approach of allocating campaign funds to established agencies and implementing new projects only after appointing task forces to study the situation.

“No committees were involved. This is not the result of a study calling for new organizations,” said Kaminer, of his incubator. “We’re learning as we go along.”

Nonetheless, many of the new projects enjoy close relationships with federations. The incubator falls under the auspices of UJC and JESNA, two national Jewish organizations funded primarily by the federation system, and Kaminer is hoping participants learn from — and are able to influence — their hosts.

“If you’re in the incubator because you have an idea for a fantastic program about college-age kids, I want you to figure out who on the UJC floor controls the money for that and get their attention,” he said.

A handful of federations are creating their own venture philanthropy groups.

In 1998, the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Washington formed the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund, a group of 35 people — primarily local business executives in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s — who each invested $10,000 toward new projects. The beneficiaries of the first funding cycle — in the areas of Jewish renaissance, social services and overseas needs — will be announced in the coming weeks.

One of the founding partners, 38-year-old Melanie Sturm, described the funds raised as “risk capital” and the potential beneficiaries as “new and innovative projects that would be more risky but could have more impact” than existing programs funded through the federation.

“Younger people want to be more involved in directing their giving,” explained Sturm, an investment banker who says she — and many of the other partners — are newcomers to the federation world. “We thought this would be a response to that and an interesting experiment.”

Despite resistance from the “old guard,” who were fearful that the effort would undermine the federation’s annual campaign, Sturm said the project has attracted many people who had never made large gifts to federations before. As a safeguard of sorts, partners are required to contribute at least $5,000 to the annual campaign in addition to the $10,000 investment.

UJA-Federation of New York recently launched a similar venture philanthropy fund, and a number of federations around the country are talking about starting them.

But some worry that venture philanthropy’s focus on what’s new and different — while attractive to young donors — could endanger existing agencies whose services are essential, albeit not glamorous.

“Creating new programs is intriguing and it’s interesting, but then somebody has to pay for turning on the lights in the synagogue and for hiring the professionals at the JCC,” said Gary Tobin, the president of the San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish and Community Research and author of a recent study on Jewish family foundations.

Joel Carp, the senior vice president of Chicago’s federation, agreed, but said that it is possible to persuade donors to support nuts-and-bolts services, too.

“I suspect that for some people the thought of only participating in keeping Jewish communal services going — paying bills for stuff that’s very basic — is not seen as dramatic or sexy,” he said. “But I spend a lot of time taking donors and prospective donors to see the services we provide and it’s extremely rare when you put donors in front of the people who we take care of that they’re not deeply touched by what they see.”

According to Washington’s Sturm, venture philanthropy will not replace federation campaigns that “are the best at raising low-risk money for sustaining basic needs and services.”

“Federations, if they are smart, will try to adapt and do both,” Sturm said.

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