Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Next up in line of communal organizations destroying themselves from within...

We have the JNF. According to Globes, JNF America has transferred only $8m. of the $30m. it raised from donations to JNF Israel, because Jewish National Fund (JNF) America president Ronald S. Lauder and JNF world chairman Yehiel Leket have "disagreed for months" about which causes to raise money for:
JNF US says the money should be used for security issues, whereas JNF Israel says the JNF has nothing to contribute to defense, and should raise money only for its declared purposes - planting and maintaining forests, and preserving Israel's environment.
JNF Israel believes that there is no reason to compete against organizations such as Magen David Adom, the Association for Well-being of Israel Soldiers and ZAKA (Zihui Korbanot Ason - Identifaction of Disaster Victims).
Of-course, the fight isn't really about that: according to Globes, there's a power struggle going on between the two branches as JNF America wants to 'transfer control of the situation from Israel to the US.' The reason?
Several months ago, Leket was elected vice president of the World Jewish Congress, whose president is Edgar Bronfman. Lauder reportedly wants to challenge Bronfman for the chairmanship. Part of this effort includes enhancing his status as president of JNF America.
You have to recall that a few years back, JNF America was already embroiled in a not-dissimilar scandal, regarding the fact it wasn't forwarding money to Israel but using the money to fund its local adminstration (can anyone remember the details / give us a link?). Any additional scandal is not going to do much for its reputation, and with serious doubts still surrounding WJC, things don't look good for Jewish communal fundraising organizations at the moment in general.
Bottom line: more and more, we need transparency and accountability in organizations that are appealing to the Jewish community for huge sums of money. There are major issues of credibility at stake here.
Incidentally, on the dispute over the use of the money, my sympathies are entirely with JNF Israel. JNF has an important niche. We don't need another organization raising funds for defense, when there are plenty of other good players in that field. But I guess defense is sexier -- and, re: the allegations against Mr. Lauder, more prestigious -- at the moment than trees...

UPDATE: You can see why Leket wants to keep control at home: According to this Ha'aretz report, also published today, although the JNF is in deep financial trouble, its top execs are living the good life, earning massive salaries plus generous benefits -- even if they haven't visited the JNF offices in 10 months due to an argument with Leket...

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