Jewish Agency Plans $300M-a-Year Push for Israel

Most Expensive Plan Ever Would Dwarf Birthright and Hillel

Biggest Ever: A massive new Jewish Agency pro-Israel push is dubbed the Prime Minister’s Initiative. Still, Benjamin Netanyahu has not publicly spoken about the $300 million-a-year plan.
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Biggest Ever: A massive new Jewish Agency pro-Israel push is dubbed the Prime Minister’s Initiative. Still, Benjamin Netanyahu has not publicly spoken about the $300 million-a-year plan.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published August 15, 2013, issue of August 23, 2013.
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A Jewish Agency for Israel plan currently in development would combine donor dollars from the United States with Israeli government funds to create what is likely the most expensive pro-Israel campaign ever.

If brought to fruition, the initiative would eventually spend $300 million a year on pro-Israel efforts in the United States and other parts of the Diaspora.

That’s more than three times the annual budget of Taglit-Birthright Israel, more than three times the annual expenditures of all Hillel chapters put together and more than 150 times the annual budget of the Israel Action Network, the much vaunted Jewish communal group founded in 2010 to promote Israel’s image on college campuses.

Yet far greater uncertainty surrounds the plan than previously reported. Despite being dubbed The Prime Minister’s Initiative by the Jewish Agency, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to back the plan in a statement to the Forward.

“[A]t the present, various ways are being examined to bolster the ties between Israel and the Diaspora communities,” Netanyahu’s office wrote in a statement released August 14.

The Jewish Agency’s United States-based fundraising chief, Misha Galperin, said that Netanyahu supported the plan. “This is the interest and the direction the prime minister wants to move in,” Galperin insisted. He asserted that Netanyahu’s office would not speak publicly about it before the government was ready to make a commitment, but that Netanyahu had directed Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky to investigate the plan’s feasibility. Galperin said that the Jewish Agency did not have specific authorization to call the project the Prime Minister’s Initiative, and that the agency was only speaking publicly about the plan after a leaked internal planning document was posted by the website eJewishPhilanthropy.

As described by Galperin, the plan would take a portion of the contributions made by American Jews to Jewish federations and send the funds to an as-yet-to-be-determined entity, the identity of which is the subject of meetings being convened by the Jewish Agency. Those funds would be combined with government funds and sent back to the Diaspora for pro-Israel programming.

The program would dwarf earlier pro-Israel efforts like the Israel Action Network, created by major Jewish institutions based in the United States with a $6 million commitment over three years.

The managing director of that effort had not yet heard of the Prime Minister’s Initiative when contacted by the Forward. Yet other Jewish officials in the United States say they are not concerned about their organizations being pushed aside by the Jewish Agency plan.

“We’re going to be at the table together, working arm in arm,” said Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America. Silverman’s group had a budget of $47 million in 2010, a sixth of the budget of the proposed Prime Minister’s Initiative.

Under the proposed plan, some funds would be spent on Birthright and other Israel trips for Diaspora Jews. Another pool of funds would be used to bolster immigration to Israel among young Jewish professionals. Other money would be used to support Israel education in Diaspora Jewish communities and to send Israelis to Jewish institutions outside Israel. Finally, some funds would be used for pro-Israel programming on campuses.


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