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August 1, 2008

JDC Shell Corporation

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s shell corporation in Cyprus has drawn more than Russian scrutiny, as a July 25 article reports; it has also drawn indignation and anger in the Jewish communities of the former Soviet Union (“Charity’s Shell Corporation Draws Russian Scrutiny”).

Asher Ostrin, the head of the JDC’s Russian department, is quoted by the Forward as saying that the Cyprus-based commercial company named AREC “grew out of efforts to make sure that Russian Jewish communities can support themselves.” This cynical explanation may appear convincing for American readers, but not for all those involved in these Russian Jewish communities.

During the last decade, the JDC has spent millions of dollars for purchasing or constructing buildings all over the former Soviet Union. It was seemingly done without any sense and any clear concept, without any discussion with local community leaders and with enormous budget overruns.

Later the JDC started to remodel its buildings in order to find commercial tenants and to cover at least a small part of the huge maintenance expenses. AREC was established, one can only surmise, to hide this unpleasant picture of financial and organizational disorder from both Russian and American Jewish leadership.

How, I ask you, can this nontransparent system of questionable manipulations with American charitable funds help our communities to become self-sufficient?

Currently the JDC’s policy has nothing in common with the proclaimed slogans of cooperation and partnership with local Jewish communities. The reality is opposite: What the JDC has done is ensure that post-Soviet Jewish communities remain weak and dependent on foreign subsidies. AREC is just another example of this self-serving and antidemocratic policy.

There are plenty of Russian-language Web sites full of angry letters from Jewish community leaders from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev, Tashkent, Krasnoyarsk and many other places. They write about the destructive results of the JDC’s charitable activities in their cities. It is no surprise that the biggest conflicts between the JDC and local Jewish leaders take place in the most strong and independent Jewish communities — the ones that are most successful in raising local funds, and therefore the closest to the ideal picture of communities that “can support themselves.” In several cities, including Kishinev, Odessa and Kharkov, the Jewish leaders have even brought legal action against the JDC.

Will anybody be held responsible for the degradation of many aspects of Jewish communal life in the former Soviet Union in recent years — degradation that resulted in no small part because of the JDC’s activity, the incompetence of its staff and it large scale squandering of charitable money?

Naum Volpe
Executive Director
Kharkov Regional UnitedJewish Community

A Vote for the Farmers

A July 11 editorial makes clear that the Forward supports the inclusion of agricultural subsidies in the farm bill, while lauding the bill’s efforts to reduce poverty and feed the third world (“A Vote for the Hungry”). These subsidies are an unnecessary evil that protect national interests while putting many farmers in the Third World out of business.

Not only are there repercussions in the World Trade Organization because of our (and the European Union’s) subsidies, but there are stronger repercussions felt in developing countries, such as Thailand, where rice growers are unable to compete with American-based agricultural firms. Stopping these subsidies would encourage sustainable development, instead of forcing Third World countries to depend on handouts.

The farmers in Thailand and elsewhere know how to produce rice and feed their own countries. All we need to do is give them a chance to do so.

Jordan Helfman
Montvale, N.J.

Israelis’ View of Obama

I must protest the contents of a July 25 article in which I was quoted (“A Skeptical Audience Awaits Barack Obama in Israel”). When I was contacted by the Forward to discuss how Israelis view Obama’s visit, I stressed that, in my view, the main reaction is curiosity.

People here have heard so much about him, and they are curious to see how he handles himself during the visit. This is true for the average Israeli, and it is also true for the political establishment.

All the leaders on the left and the right want to establish the basis for a working relationship with the man who has a good chance of being the next president of the United States. This includes Benjamin Netanyahu. The Likud leader appears to want to avoid the same mistake he made with President Clinton and is going out of his way to send signals of his readiness for dialogue and a positive relationship with Obama.

I added that while Hillary Clinton was a more familiar figure to most Israelis, and gained the benefit of the tremendous warmth felt by Israelis toward her husband, there is also a significant segment of the Israeli public that is actually excited by the prospect of an Obama presidency — and this includes many Israelis with American citizenship who have the right to vote in the Novemeber elections.

This is true for Israelis in the peace, environmental, human and civil rights movements, and all the Israelis who feel that President Bush’s policies have been a disaster, not only for America but also for Israel. Senator McCain, who is also not well known in Israel, is considered to be more of the same.

And finally, I noted that all of us Israelis with American citizenship have friends and relatives in the United States. For their sake, we want to see an improvement in the economy, a comprehensive health care plan, equal rights for women, a strong Social Security system and a progressive Supreme Court. I believe that all of these, and much more, are far more likely under an Obama presidency.

Hillel Schenker
Vice Chair
Democrats Abroad-Israel
Tel Aviv, Israel


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