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Jewish agency

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Jewish agency


The Jewish Agency for Israel (Hebrew: הסוכנות היהודית לארץ ישראל‎, HaSochnut HaYehudit L'Eretz Yisra'el) is the largest Jewish nonprofit organization in the world and has served since 1929 as the primary organization responsible for the immigration ("Aliyah") and absorption of Jews and their families from the Diaspora into Israel.[1] The Jewish Agency played a central role in the founding and the building of the State of Israel and continues to serve as the main link between Israel and Jewish communities around the world.[2] Its mission is to "inspire Jews throughout the world to connect with their people, heritage, and land, and empower them to build a thriving Jewish future and a strong Israel."[3]

The Jewish Agency is a non-governmental organization and does not receive core funding from the Israeli government.The Jewish Agency is funded by The Jewish Federations of North America, Keren Hayesod, major Jewish communities and federations, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, foundations and donors from Israel and around the world.[4] The dozens of programs it supports or operates benefit well over a million Israelis and Jews worldwide every year.

In 2008, The Jewish Agency won the Israel Prize for its contribution to Israel and to the worldwide Jewish community.[5]

History

1908–1928

The Jewish Agency began as the Palestine Office (Hebrew: המשרד הארץ-ישראלי, HaMisrad HaEretz Yisraeli), founded in Jaffa in 1908, as the operational branch of the Zionist Organization (ZO) in Ottoman-controlled Palestine under the leadership of Arthur Ruppin.[6] The main tasks of the Palestine Office were to represent the Jews of Palestine in dealings with the Turkish sultan and other foreign dignitaries, to aid Jewish immigration, and to buy land for Jews to settle.[7]

The WZO and MHY bought land for Jewish immigrants (of the Second Aliyah) in two locations: Chavat Kinneret (near the Sea of Galilee), and Kibbutz Ruhama (near Sderot). Kibbutz Ruhama was destined for Russian Jews from the Second Aliyah. The MHY continued to purchase land together with JNF (In Hebrew: Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael, KKL).

Following the promulgation of the pro-Zionist Balfour Declaration of 1917, Dr. Chaim Weizmann, president of the British Zionist Federation[8] formed the Zionist Commission in March 1918 to go to Palestine and make recommendations to the British government. The Commission reached Palestine on 14 April 1918 and proceeded to study conditions and to report to the British government,[9] and was active in promoting Zionist objectives in Palestine. Weizmann was instrumental in restructuring the WZO's Palestine office into departments for agriculture, settlement, education, land, finance, immigration, and statistics.

On 19 April 1920, elections were held for the Assembly of Representatives of the Palestinian Jewish community.[10]

On 25 April 1920, the Principal Allied Powers agreed at the San Remo conference to allocate the Ottoman territories to the victorious powers and assigned Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq as Mandates to Britain, with the Balfour Declaration being incorporated into the Palestine Mandate. The League of Nations formally approved these mandates in 1922.[10] Article 4 of the Mandate provided for "the recognition of an appropriate Jewish Agency as a public body for the purpose of advising and co-operating with the Administration of Palestine in such economic, social and other matters as may affect the establishment of the Jewish National Home and the interests of the Jewish population of Palestine."[11] The ZO leaders had contributed to the drafting of the Mandate.[12] In 1921, the Zionist Commission became the Palestine Zionist Executive and was designated as the Jewish Agency for Palestine for the purpose of Article 4 of the Palestine Mandate.[13]

In 1921 Jabotinsky was elected to the Executive but he resigned in 1923 accusing Weizmann of not being vigorous enough with the Mandatory Government.[14] Other issues between the Revisionists and the Agency were the distribution of entry permits, Weizmann's support for the Zionist Labour Movement and the proposal to expand the Agency. The Revisionist broke completely with Agency in 1935, but rejoined WZO in 1947.[15] In 1951 the WZO/JA included all factions except Herut.[16]

The Palestine Zionist Executive was charged with facilitating Jewish immigration to Palestine, land purchase and planning the general policies of the Zionist leadership. It ran schools and hospitals, and formed a defence force, the Haganah. Chaim Weizmann was the leader of both the Zionist Organisation and the Palestine Zionist Executive until 1929. The arrangement enabled the Zionist Organisation to issue entry permits to new immigrants.[17]

Jewish Agency for Palestine

In 1929, the Jewish Agency for Palestine was officially created by the 16th Zionist Congress, held in Zurich, Switzerland. The new body was larger and included a number of Jewish non-Zionist individuals and organisations, who were interested in Jewish settlement in Palestine. They were philanthropic rather than political and many opposed talk of a Jewish State.[18] There was strong opposition within WZO when the idea of enlargement of the Board of Governors of the JA was first raised in 1924 to include non-Zionists, and it was only accepted by the Zionist Congress in 1927.[19] It was Chaim Weizmann's initiative and was established on the principle of parity between Zionists and non-Zionists working together in the building of a Jewish national home.[20] Those participating included the writer, Sholem Asch, H. N. Bialik, PM of France Léon Blum, Albert Einstein, Immanuel Löw, Lord Alfred (Mond) Melchett and Herbert Samuel (the first governor of Palestine instated by the British under mandate).[21] American non-Zionists received 44 of the 112 seats allotted to non-Zionists.[22] The British Board of Deputies joined as a constituent body.[23] Weizmann was criticized for being too pro-British. When the 1930 White Paper was published recommending restricting Jewish immigration his position became untenable and he resigned from the Jewish Agency and in 1931 Nahum Sokolow was elected President, as well as President of the Zionist Organisation. Arthur Ruppin became President of the Jewish Agency in 1933 and David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Shertok joined the executive. In 1935, Ben-Gurion was elected President of the Agency to succeed Ruppin.

In 1937 The Peel Commission published its report into the disturbances of the year before. For the first time partition and the setting up of a Jewish State was recommended. The 1937 Zionist Congress declined to endorse the Commission's conclusions, a majority insisting that the Balfour Declaration referred to all of Palestine and Transjordan, but the executive was authorized to continue exploring what the "precise terms" were. This decision revealed differences within the Jewish Agency, with the non-Zionists disagreeing with the decision and some calling for a conference of Jews and Arabs.[24] In 1947 the last non-Zionist member of the Jewish Agency, Wemer Senator, resigned and the Agency and the WZO once again became unified.[20] The Jewish Agency Executive comprised David Ben-Gurion, as chairman, and Rabbi Yehuda Leib Maimon and Yitzhak Gruenbaum.

The Jewish Agency was housed in a fortress-like building in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem.[25] The three-winged structure with a large open courtyard was designed by Yochanan Rattner.[26]

On March 11, 1948, a bomb planted in the courtyard of the building by Arab militants killed 13 and wounded many others. The Keren HaYesod wing was completely destroyed.[26] Leib Yaffe, director-general of Keren Hayesod was killed in the bombing.[27]

The Jewish Agency for Israel

Following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the government created the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) to facilitate economic development and the absorption of immigrants. In 1952 the "Law on the Status of the WZO and the Jewish Agency - 5713" was passed formalizing the roles of each group. In June 1968 the Ministry for Absorption was created, taking over some aspects of immigration from WZO/JA.[28] Since 1948, the Jewish Agency for Israel has been responsible for bringing 3 million immigrants to Israel. New immigrants are accommodated in one of 32 absorption centers across Israel. There they receive vocational training and go through an acculturation process. Most of the olim, or new immigrants, in absorptions centers are from Ethiopia. One of the most significant projects to bring Ethiopians to Israel was through Operation Solomon. Since there are fewer Jewish communities at-risk in the diaspora, the Jewish Agency is focusing on aliyah of choice. Staff are working closely with youth and religious movements to encourage immigration to Israel.[29] The organization was also instrumental in bringing over 1 million Jews from the former Soviet Union to Israel.Though the emphasis of the Jewish Agency's work has been on aliyah, or immigration to Israel, in the past decade the Jewish Agency has made a significant impact in two other strategic areas: Jewish-Zionist Education and Partnerships in Israel.

The Jewish Agency has a continuum of programming to bring Israel to local worldwide Jewish communities. To some degree this is done through shlichim, or emissaries. Shlichim are Israeli educators, cultural ambassadors, who spend an extended period of time abroad to bring Israel to the community. You can also find shlichim on U.S. college campuses in organizations like Ariel Sharon.

Israel department programs focus on strengthening Israel's periphery, namely the Galilee region in the north and the Negev in the South. The emergence of the high tech industry in Israel has created a significant socio-economic disparity between the center of country and the outer regions. Thus, the Jewish Agency has programs to lessen the gap. For instance, Youth Futures, is a holistic approach to dealing with at-risk youth in Israel. A child is connected to a trustee who is responsible for connecting the child to resources and community services. Another flagship program is Net@, a program that is supported by Cisco Systems. Program participants are high performers who are given the opportunity to rise above their families' socio-economic background by getting the Cisco International Certification. The program is in addition to the participants' high school course load and increases their English comprehension skills.

The Jewish Agency for Israel's headquarters is located in Jerusalem, but there are also satellite sites worldwide. The Jewish Agency for Israel North America, which is currently headed by Misha Galperin, is the organization's main fundraising arm in North America, and is a registered 501(c)(3).[30]

New Strategic Plan

At the February 2010 Board of Governors meeting, Natan Sharansky announced a shift in the priorities of The Jewish Agency from aliyah to strengthening Jewish identity for young adults around the world.[31]

Until 2009, The Jewish Agency was organized into three departments: the Aliyah and Absorption department, which was responsible for the immigration and integration of Jews coming to Israel; the Education department, which worked to deepen the connection of Jews worldwide to Israel; and the Israel department, which focused on improving the lives of socio-economically vulnerable Israelis.[32]

In order to increase efficiency, The Jewish Agency, under the leadership of its new Chairman of the Executive, Natan Sharansky, decided to restructure the organization.[33][34] The three main departments were reorganized into the following six program units:

  • Israel Experiences – provides opportunities for young Jews from around the world to encounter Israel and meet Israelis, and for Israelis to meet them[35]
  • Shlichim and Israel Fellows – sends Israeli emissaries to Diaspora communities worldwide to strengthen Jewish identity and connection to Israel [36]
  • Russian-Speaking Jewry – runs programs for Russian-speaking Jews of all ages around the world, with a focus on Jewish education and building Jewish communal leadership[37]
  • Social Activism – aids the vulnerable in Israel and around the world, and trains young Jews and Israelis to engage in social activism[38]
  • Partnerships - oversees Partnership2Gether, connecting Jewish communities in Israel and the Diaspora to learn from each other and to build a sense of global Jewish peoplehood[39]
  • Aliyah, Absorption, and Special Operations – aids all immigrants with the Aliyah (resettlement in Israel) process and integration both before and after their arrival, and rescues Jews from areas of distress to Israel [40]

Each program unit reports directly to The Jewish Agency's Director General. Additionally, The Agency’s support units – such as human resources, marketing, and finance—which had until 2009 existed independently for each department, were trimmed and consolidated into single units that served the entire organization.[32][41][42]

Along with the organizational restructuring came a new focus. As the first decade of the 21st century came to a close, The Agency noted that most of global Jewry was now located in democratic, stable societies that were relatively friendly to Jewish residents.[43] As "Aliyah of Rescue" became urgent for decreasing numbers of Jews, new challenges were arising for world Jewry, most notably, Agency leaders remarked, the need to engage young Jews in Jewish culture and to help Israeli Jews and those who live outside Israel to understand each other and feel connected to what they call the "global Jewish family."[43][44]

Pre-state leadership

Leadership after 1948

Natan Sharansky was elected chairman on June 25, 2009.[46] The position was previously held by Zeev Bielski who left to become a member of Knesset with the Kadima party following the 2009 Israeli election. Before that Sallai Meridor, former Israeli ambassador to the United States, held the position.

Since June 2007, Richard Pearlstone[47] has been the Chair of the Jewish Agency BOG, following Carole Solomon's leadership[48] Moshe Vigdor serves in the capacity of the organization's director general.[49] Moshe Vigdor announced his resignation in December 2009.[50] On March 1, 2010, Alan Hoffman, Director General of the Jewish Agency Education Department, was named as Moshe Vigdor's replacement.[51] Alan Hoffman is the first immigrant to hold that position at the Jewish Agency.

The Board of Governors determines the policy of the Jewish Agency for Israel and manages, supervises, controls and directs its operations and activities. All bodies (other than the Assembly), officers and officials of the Jewish Agency act within the policies set by the Assembly and Board of Governors and are accountable to the Board of Governors. Between meetings of the Assembly, the Board of Governors has full power to act for the Agency and may fix policy, provided that its acts and decisions are not inconsistent with previous decisions or instructions of the Assembly.

The Board of Governors has up to 120 members divided as follows: 50% World Zionist Organization, 30% United Israel Appeal, Inc., (UIA) and Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), formerly UJC, 20% Keren Hayesod.

The Board of Governors meets three times a year at the Jewish Agency headquarters located in Jerusalem.

Funding sources

The Jewish Agency is primarily supported by the Jewish Federations of North America, Keren Hayesod, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, and Jewish communities across the globe. The Jewish Agency is also supported by donor contributions from throughout the world, including Israel, where a growing number of philanthropists have joined through the Spirit of Israel campaign to support the organization's projects and activities.

Due to the volatile U.S. dollar, the global economic crisis and the Madoff scandal, The Jewish Agency for Israel has recently been forced to make significant cuts to its budget. The Board of Governors voted to cut $45 million in November 2008 and an additional $26 million at the February 2009 meeting.[52]

Emergency projects

During the 2006 Lebanon War, the Jewish Agency moved 50,000 children from the north to 50 residential camps. 12,000 children went to day JAFI-equipped summer camps held in community centers. 2,100 new immigrants were moved to safety after a number of absorption centers were hit by rockets. 2,700 bomb shelter kits were distributed. The Jewish Agency established a micro-business loan fund in the north to boost the local economy. In addition, the Israel Discount Bank partnered with the Jewish Agency, providing matching funds for capital projects there. The Jewish Agency played an important role in supporting Sderot and the surrounding area.[53] More than 12,000 children enjoyed respite activities in the center and north of the country, 300 educators were trained to work with children living through trauma, supplemental educational activities were offered to more than 2,000 students, the S.O.S. Emergency Fund for Victims of Terror helped more than 200 people whose lives were directly affected by the Kassam attacks, 100 bomb shelters were renovated in the region, and 500 students received scholarships to study at Sapir College in Sderot.

Jewish People Policy Planning Institute

The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute was established in 2002 by the Jewish Agency for Israel as an independent professional policy planning think tank to promote the identity, culture, prosperity, and continuity of the Jewish People. Every year, Jewish leaders participate in JPPPI's conferences and meetings that forecast the Jewish condition. Participants have included Dennis Ross, Shimon Peres, Natan Sharansky, Malcolm Hoenlein, Tzipi Livni. The Institute conducts meetings, publishes reports and position papers, and produces contingency plans that help the development of Jewish communities around the world.[54]

Awards and recognition

On May 8, 2008, at the 60th Independence Day celebration, the Jewish Agency for Israel was awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement & special contribution to society and the State of Israel.[55][56]

See also

References

External links

  • Official Jewish Agency Website
  • Jewish People Policy Planning Institute Official Website
  • The Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem. Collections of the Jewish Agency for Israel.
  • Masa Israel Journey Official Website
  • Another Perspective Accessed October 21, 2012
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