Late last week, the Jewish Press published this story that absurdly and falsely calls into question the Jewish Federations’ unshakable commitment to Israel and Zionist principles. For decades, Federations have been wholly committed to ensuring that Israel is stable, thriving and integral to Jewish people throughout the world. Such deep support for Israel and dedication to Zionism has been, and always will be, a fundamental Federations principle. So when our values and the principles upon which Federations are built are attacked so carelessly and baselessly – when we are confronted with lashon hara – we must set the record straight.
This Jewish Press story is based on distorted, second-hand reports from a recent Global Planning Table working group meeting in New York. Let us reiterate what actually was discussed at the June meeting – not the imagined and invented version.
The Global Planning Table will help ensure that Federations extend our vital mission to support Jewish communities in Israel and globally through the 21st century. The June in-person meeting featured important discussions about how the Global Planning Table can succeed in its mission to embrace the most compelling challenges and opportunities to strengthen and build the Jewish people, ensuring that our collective philanthropic investments have meaningful impact where most needed.
As part of these discussions, group members separated into four working groups to focus on different areas of need in the Jewish world. The working groups, like JFNA itself, are comprised of volunteer and professional leaders representing 155 Jewish Federations. The working groups are scheduled to meet three times during the summer to recommend priorities to the full GPT Committee this fall.
During its initial meeting, a working group focused on Supporting Israel’s Civil Society discussed how Federations could work to strengthen Israel and the connections between Israel and Diaspora Jews by focusing on such issues as religious pluralism. While the working group made significant progress upon the issues and priorities, there was some disagreement about the precise language to describe its vision in its recommendations back to the larger GPT Committee.
Specifically, one member of the working group recommended using the phrase "enhancing the Zionist enterprise." Another member of the group recommended using the phrase "enhancing the State of Israel." Members discussed a variety of language options for the vision statement. However: the working group made no decision about language. It did not vote on any specific language. It produced no report.
Where there was clear and firm consensus, however, is that the work being proposed will strengthen Israel and the connections between American Jews, Israelis and Israel. On policies and priorities, the working group reaffirmed our deepest support for Israel and Zionist principles. Following the meeting, we heard from a number of participants who are excited about the progress of the working groups and about how the Global Planning Table will support our larger work to stand with Israel and the Jewish people.
The ongoing support of Israel has always been fundamental to Federations and to JFNA. Our system sends hundreds of millions of dollars each year to Israel to support the vulnerable, to assist in education programs, to help new immigrants, to assist in job and skills development, and to provide concrete expressions of solidarity during Israel's darkest hours. We connect American Jews to Israel and Israelis by supporting birthright and other youth and young adult programs, community and national missions to Israel, and innovative partnerships between our communities and Israeli communities. We are proud to be holding our 2013 General Assembly in Israel, where we will have an opportunity to highlight the important work we do with our partners in Israel.
So why are we faced with a story that is so wrong? One member of the working group shared his thoughts about the language discussion with a blogger critical of Federations and the Global Planning Table, who twisted what really happened into a version with no basis in reality. The Jewish Press subsequently picked up this false account. What should have been a positive story about how Federation volunteers and professional leaders met to discuss how to strengthen our support for Israel and Zionist principles turned into a demonstrably false story that hangs on a phantom, non-existent report.
It is our responsibility – on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of individuals in the Federation movement who have selflessly devoted their lives to supporting the State of Israel and Zionist principles – to refute these false allegations and set the record straight.
Ultimately, this unfortunate episode is a distraction. Our focus is to support Israel and Jews in need around the world, to build connections between Jews and their homeland, and to strengthen the Jewish People and the Jewish State. These are the fundamental values of JFNA, the Federation system, and our new Global Planning Table.
We have just observed Tisha B’av, commemorating the destruction of the second temple, which tradition teaches was brought about by sinat chinam, causeless hatred and deliberate disunity. We will soon enter the month Elul, a time of great introspection, as individuals and as a people. We welcome this time of teshuva – of returning – to our better selves in order to bring about a perfected future.
President and CEO.
The Jewish Federations of North America.