Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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Israel-Diaspora Relations

The Key Players

Reinventing World Jewry: How to Design
the World Jewish Polity

Daniel J. Elazar

Instruments of the Keter Malkhut: The Key Players

The most concrete manifestation of the shift to preeminence of the keter malkhut was the emergence of a coherent set of institutions for that domain on an edah-wide basis. Those institutions are increasingly tied together by a sense of common purpose, shared leadership, and programmatic collaboration. Most of them are outgrowths or continuations of the organizations that emerged toward the end of the previous generation.

Our research has identified thirty-two Jewish organizations with principal and continuing interest in the world Jewish polity and its affairs as such, one fourth of which (eight) are anchored in the keter torah though they may be designed to operate in the keter malkhut, the other three-quarters of which are unequivocally within the keter malkhut. While some of these organizations are quite specialized, most are at the very least multi-purpose.

Of these organizations, four deserve designation as major players: the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), the World Zionist Organization (WZO), the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the World Jewish Congress (WJC). To them we must add the Government of the State of Israel, which is the major player on the world Jewish scene, ex officio, so to speak. Any ranking of these five would put JAFI in second place with regard to total budget. The State of Israel is far and away in first place with total expenditures in the vicinity of forty billion dollars annually for all purposes, far in excess of any voluntary body. If those expenditures directly related to world Jewry were calculated, that figure would be much, much lower. JAFI's annual expenditure, in the vicinity of half a billion dollars, stands in second place, at the very least. JDC, with a budget of sixty million dollars is third; and fairly close to it is the WZO with forty million dollars, in part derived from the JAFI budget, and now sixty percent of it at least partly controlled by JAFI through the Joint Education Authority. The World Jewish Congress has a budget of four million dollars, of which five hundred thousand dollars consists of WZO support. Thus the direct world Jewry expenditures of the State of Israel and those of JAFI constitute a first tier, those of the JDC and the WZO a second tier, and the WJC a third tier. In matters of revenues, the State of Israel is still in first place with the Magbiot (UJA and Keren HaYesod), the principal revenue-raisers for JAFI, WZO and JDC in second, and the WJC a distant third.

When it comes to priorities, all four organizations equally place world Jewry as their first priority, each for its own specific purposes: JAFI to mobilize world Jewry for building the Jewish state and for fostering Jewish education in the diaspora, the WZO for the same purposes, JDC for relief and rehabilitation of Jews in distress, WJC for mobilization of world Jewry against anti-Semitism. Three, JAFI, WZO and WJC, are governed by assemblies at least nominally representative of world Jewry.

All three draw from the Jewish communities through local Jewish organizations: JAFI through the Magbiot and in the United States and Canada, the local community federations; WZO, through the Zionist political parties; and WJC through country-wide representative organizations where they exist. JDC is formally governed by a board drawn from U.S. Jewish communities alone, although its civil service is international in character.

In addition to these five actors, the Magbiot and their powerful constituents that provide the revenue must be included for all practical purposes in this list of principal mobilizers of the world Jewish polity. The close intertwining of all of these entities at least in part can be followed through the transfers of payments between them and through their overlapping leadership. If both are followed through, JAFI stands at the very center of the network.

Jewish Agency for Israel. The reconstitution of the Jewish Agency in 1970-1971 separated the WZO and JAFI and restructured the Agency's governing organs so that the "non-Zionist" representatives of the diaspora communities through their fundraising arms were included in them as equal partners. The change was formally marked by a revision of the covenant between the Agency and the state. The Agency that emerged this time was not simply an instrumentality of the Israeli government, designed to achieve limited political and institutional ends; it was, at least potentially, an instrumentality of the Jewish people and a key element in the reemerging world Jewish polity.

The Jewish Agency functions in education, housing, immigration, settlement, and regional and urban rehabilitation, and provides some social services. It remains closely tied to the WZO, which is, in many respects, its alter ego for work in the diaspora. More recently, the Assembly has found its voice, the Board of Governors has found ways to effectively assert its authority, and the Executive has become more responsive to both.

Because the Jewish Agency has become the principal forum for diaspora Jewry to participate in edah-wide activities and especially the common tasks of the Jewish people in Eretz Israel, its status and importance have risen rapidly since its reconstitution. It has become the major arena for the internal politics of the edah and has attracted many talented and effective diaspora leaders who come to it through a network of organizations -- Zionist, fundraising, and communal-welfare -- of which it is rapidly becoming the nexus for edah-wide business. The expansion of its mandate in the early 1980s to include work in the diaspora to promote Jewish education and Aliya has been paralleled by the increase in diaspora community interest in its workings, which strengthens it further.

World Zionist Organization. The WZO was founded at the first Zionist Congress (1897) to attain a "legally secured, publicly recognized national home for the Jewish people." When the Balfour Declaration became part of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine (1922), Britain, the Mandatory power, acknowledged the WZO as the "Jewish agency" charged with representing the world Jewish interest in the implementation of the Mandate. WZO transferred that status to the separately constituted Jewish Agency in 1929. The two merged again the in the 1940s after the withdrawal of the non-Zionists from the Agency over the question of Jewish statehood. In 1971, when the Jewish Agency was reconstituted, the WZO resumed its independent status. The WZO retains a 50 percent partnership in the Jewish Agency and the key executive positions, thereby preserving for itself a key -- some would say dominant -- role in the Agency's work.

Today the WZO is charged with implementing the "Jerusalem Program" of 1968, which defines the aims of Zionism as "the unity of the Jewish people and the centrality of Israel in Jewish life;... the preservation of the identity of the Jewish people through the fostering of Jewish and Hebrew education and of Jewish spiritual and cultural values; (and) the protection of Jewish rights everywhere." This makes explicit the new role of the WZO as a diaspora-oriented body, though its original purpose had been to harness efforts of world Jewry for the Yishuv. In part, its functions are those that cannot be subsumed under the headings for which tax-exempt philanthropic money in the United States and elsewhere is contributed. For example, although agricultural settlement money for new immigrants is the domain of the Jewish Agency, the WZO finances and administers agricultural projects in the administered territories, because it is understood that the United States Internal Revenue Service does not want tax-exempt money to be used across the 1949 armistice lines.

Structurally, the WZO is a federation of ideological movements. Most of these constituent bodies have been linked with an Israeli counterpart since the development of the prestate Zionist party system. Increasingly, however, they imperfectly reflect the changes that have occurred in the Israeli party system. The World Confederation of General Zionists, for example, retains nomenclature that ceased to exist in Israel in the 1960s and is often referred to as the "nonparty party." In addition, there is a second tier of nonparty member organizations including the Women's International Zionist Organization (WIZO), the three worldwide synagogue movements, the World Maccabi Union, and the World Sephardi Federation, which have limited voting rights.

The WZO is governed by the World Zionist Congress, which, in theory, is an elected parliament. The more than six hundred seats in the congress, which meets every four years, are allocated geographically in the following proportions: 38 percent for Israel, 29 percent for the United States, and 33 percent for the other diaspora countries. In Israel, delegates are allocated to the Zionist political parties (that is, all except the Communist and exclusively Arab parties) in proportion to their representation in the Knesset. Each party then designates its delegates accordingly. The voting outside Israel is largely by party lists. In recent years, the parties in the various countries have negotiated the division of their country delegations roughly in proportion to their respective memberships, to avoid holding elections. This led to serious problems of credibility so, in 1986 the Zionist General Council voted to require actual elections as provided by the WZO constitution. Accordingly, elections were held for the 1987 Congress. However, the parties went back to the negotiated system for the next Congress.

The Congress elects the Executive, in which the major parties are represented, and the General Council (Vaad HaPoel). The General Council meets once or twice a year between congresses. Governance of the WZO is in the hands of a wall-to-wall coalition on the principle that Zionist work is above party wars, with the chairmanship of the Executive and the Congress normally in the hands of the party at the head of the Israeli government at the time or a party in coalition with it.

The party composition of the Zionist movement long antedates the establishment of the state. Almost from its inception, the congresses were assemblies of parties as well as of delegates. Despite a widespread desire for structural changes after 1948, the WZO found it impossible to transcend the party structure, which undoubtedly reduced its effectiveness as a mass movement in the diaspora.

The WZO, as an edah instrumentality, never functioned as a representative body in Eretz Israel. After 1917, democratically elected parliamentary bodies were introduced to speak for the Jewish Yishuv. The Zionist parties contested with one another for seats in those bodies.

Periodically, attempts have been made to dilute the political character of the WZO by permitting individuals to affiliate directly with countrywide Zionist federations without first joining political groups and through the affiliations of the nonpolitical groups mentioned above plus B'nai B'rith as associate members. Full membership, however, remains reserved for the political groups while offices and rewards are distributed according to a modified party key.

In the federated structure that is the WZO, the influence of the Israeli center is greater than the sum of its parts. This is because the center represents Israel to the diaspora bodies: it originates programs, has a highly articulated bureaucracy, and allocates the financial resources. The status of the WZO in the diaspora is weakened by the lack of clarity about its tasks in the era of statehood. The effect of the late David Ben-Gurion's openly critical attitude toward the WZO has not yet worn off. The aims of the WZO are broad enough, and its apparatus wide-ranging enough, for it to assume the character of a conglomerate among multicountry Jewish organizations; but its party political structure sets limits to its acceptance on a broad popular basis. Party politics also has served to narrow the outlook of the WZO and prevent it from offering the Jewish Agency and the Jewish world a broad-based program the way that it could have.

Joint Distribution Committee. A major share of multicountry activity in education, welfare, and community organization is performed by organizations formally sponsored by individual countrywide communities. Outstanding among them is the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the chief overseas welfare agency of American Jewry and one of the two partners in the united Jewish Appeal. Although sponsored and governed by American Jews, its staff is multicountry and its range of operations is probably greater than that of any other Jewish body.

The JDC organizes and finances rescue, relief, and rehabilitation programs for imperiled and needy Jews throughout the world; conducts a wide range of health, welfare, education, and rehabilitation programs; and provides aid to cultural and religious institutions. It serves some 430,000 Jews in twenty-five countries, including Israel. It contributes financially to the support of many other Jewish organizations, and it works with most of the other edah bodies in the fulfillment of its mission. Its headquarters are in New York, with regional headquarters in Paris and Jerusalem.

The evolution of the JDC since its founding in 1914 reflects the transformations that have taken place in Jewish life in the twentieth century. Its beginnings were in ad hoc relief, an American Jewish response to World War I, the first of the great crises to bring disaster to Jews in the twentieth century. As such, it became the embodiment of Jewish unity when under siege, as American Jews from all the ideological camps -- Socialist, Orthodox, and Progressive -- found a way to join with one another despite their great ideological differences to provide relief and restock for fellow Jews.

After the war's end, the Russian Revolution and the various eastern European regional wars created new needs, and the JDC was institutionalized as a permanent instrument for American Jewish relief efforts. It became a classic emancipationist institution, committed to enabling and even encouraging Jews to find their way within the countries in which they were located. In part, this was an American Jewish response to the severe limitations placed on immigration to the United States, but it is of great significance that effectively the response was anti-Zionist.

This orientation did not change until the impact of Nazism became apparent and the JDC had to reevaluate its stance. Even so, not until the takeover of the eastern European countries by Soviet-sponsored Communist regimes that sooner or later expelled the JDC, charging it with being a foreign agent, did the "Joint" truly shift its orientation. At approximately the same time, early in the 1950s, Ben-Gurion persuaded the JDC to undertake major responsibilities for the relief of the elderly and chronically ill refugees who had come to Israel as part of the mass immigration in the years immediately following the establishment of the state. This brought the "Joint" to Israel in a major way. Since then, there has been a consistent expansion of the JDC role in the Jewish state, most recently moving from relief, rehabilitation, and institutional support to concerns such as the improvement of civic life and local government in Israel.

In the meantime, the major thrust of the JDC relief activities outside Israel was shifted to the remnant Jewish communities in the Islamic world. In addition, the JDC played a major role in rebuilding European Jewry in the aftermath of World War II and continues to play a significant, if reduced, role in encouraging European Jews to strengthen their Jewish institutions. The JDC also returned to eastern Europe during a thaw in the cold war and continues its work there in a low-key way.

The JDC is held in high respect within the Jewish world and has succeeded in penetrating into places where Jewish institutions are usually forbidden or severely limited. Its success stems from its constant striving to be a professional rescue and relief organization, nonpolitical, and dedicated to maintain as low a profile as needed to achieve its tasks.

The JDC sees itself as a very professional organization, one in which professionals play a very major role in decision making. Its major concerns are in relief and rehabilitation with Jewish education a close second. Its programs and projects are all perceived by its leadership to be for as long as a need for JDC action exists rather than permanent ones. JDC has carefully cultivated a non-political stance, so that it was and is able to work in countries otherwise closed to world Jewish activities.

JDC cooperates with many partner organizations. Obviously the CJF and UJA are responsible for raising its funds. With UIA, its partner in the UJA, it decides on the formula for dividing the UJA funds. JDC cooperates with such diverse organizations as the Jewish National Fund, Keren HaYesod, WIZO, Alliance Israelite Universelle, ORT, B'nai B'rith and Hadassah. There is little duplication between the JDC and any of them.

The JDC-JAFI relationship, however, is far more complex than any other JDC linkage. They both have long term cooperative relationships with each other and JDC generally works well with JAFI field staff, but they have very different ways of doing business. JAFI has political relations while JDC seeks to be non-political. JAFI programs are established as permanent ones and not just on the basis of need. These are the kinds of differences that occur between a government and a philanthropy and include differences of style that can often be the most aggravating to representatives of both bodies. Nevertheless, both sides see the collaboration as beneficial except perhaps when each is competing for credit on projects that both undertake.

JDC has operated in over 70 countries throughout the world and has been involved in everything from rescuing the remnants of European Jewry after the Holocaust to rebuilding Jewish communities in Western Europe to supporting efforts to modernize Jewish life in African and Asia. JDC is recognized worldwide as a leader in what it does and had played its role in international aid programs via international development program in such body as the Interfaith Hunger Appeal. It is often give assignments by the United States and the United Nations in that context. Within the Jewish polity it has primary cooperative efforts with the AIU and ORT education and vocational training as well as JAFI.

World Jewish Congress. The World Jewish Congress (WJC) has as its main purpose the defense of Jewish rights, and to that end it aims to be representative of the widest possible spectrum of world Jewry. It is an avowedly diaspora-oriented organization. Its specific activities in recent years have included intervention on behalf of Jews in Arab countries; pressure for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals and for indemnification payments to their victims; contacts with Christian church bodies on questions of Israel and anti-Semitism; cultural assistance to small Jewish communities; relations with international organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Organization of American States, and the Council of Europe; espousal of the cause of Soviet Jewry; maintaining Jewish contacts with the Third World; and support of Israel in its diplomatic struggles.

Like the WZO, the World Jewish Congress has a federative structure. In theory it is a confederation of countrywide representative community bodies, with the general body deliberately limiting itself in scope. The members -- independent community organizations -- are free to determine their own policies locally. The WJC's constitution prohibits it from operating or speaking in a country unless its local constituents agree, except where no organized community exists or where a community cannot freely express its will.

On the other hand, the WJC may set up branches in countries without representative organizations or where the leading groups are unwilling to participate. Thus, when the Board of Deputies of British Jews refused to affiliate, the WJC established a British Section. In the United States, the American Jewish Congress initially functioned as the American arm of the WJC. When differences arose between the two groups, the WJC established a North American Section, which has recently begun to enroll rabbinical and congregational associations as affiliates. Conversely, the Canadian Jewish Congress and DAIA (the representative organization of Argentine Jewry) are, as representative organizations, directly affiliated with the WJC.

The WJC Executive works through four regional branches, each with its own constitution -- in North America, South America, Europe, and Israel -- that mediate between the parent body and affiliates. The European branch, which operates primarily in western Europe, also maintains ties with community organizations in the former Communist bloc. The Israeli branch does not have constituent organizations. Composed in keeping with the ubiquitous party key, its eighteen members are drawn from the spectrum of parliamentary parties.

Because its members are organizations, the number of individuals actually associated with the WJC is small. Some 400 to 500 delegates attend the quadrennial assemblies. Between assemblies, an executive committee of 120 meets annually, to which every member organization sends at least one delegate. There are also a governing council of 35, a secretary-general in Geneva, and a director-general in New York, since 1981 the center of its governance. Its cultural department is headquartered in Israel, its political department in Paris, and its policy research institute is in London. Among the members of the governing council is a strong contingent of prominent rabbis and diaspora Zionist leaders.

The WJC has complemented the WZO in areas where the latter could not operate, but it has also been the WZO's potential rival. For this reason, the Zionist leadership's attitude toward the WJC has always been one of ambivalence. In the 1930s, Dr. Chaim Weizmann, as the WZO president, stayed away from the founding assembly of the WJC, persisting in his resolve to avoid diaspora Jewish politics. Although most of the Zionist Congress voted to designate the WJC as the most suitable instrument for the protection of Jewish rights, thereby ensuring WZO representation in (and in recent years subsidization of) the WJC, the concern that diaspora interests might compete with those of the Yishuv was never far submerged and has surfaced again in the era of the state. The notion of an organization representing world Jewry which might hold a position independent of Israel has little appeal to the state's policymakers.

A second, equally substantial element in the inability of the WJC to become the representative organization of world Jewry was the unwillingness of the major Jewish organizations in the United States and Britain to become part of the WJC structure. The real bases of the WJC are in Latin America and Europe. It may well be the dominant regional Jewish organization in Latin America, but that region is not strong enough on the world Jewish scene to be a real power base. The diminution of Europe's strength after the Holocaust, coupled with the emergence of the European Council of Jewish Community Services as an increasingly important regional force, has weakened the role of the WJC on that continent. Finally, the dominance of the WJC by Nahum Goldmann and his coterie of supporters for the entire postwar generation weakened the organization internally by discouraging new leadership and externally by making Goldmann's agenda -- and quarrels -- its own.

After Goldmann's death, the WJC went into a certain eclipse, modified only by the fact that in those years, at the height of the Cold War and the isolation of Israel from the Third World, the WJC continued to play a role in fostering and protecting the interests of Israel and world Jewry in those parts of the world where the state itself could not easily represent its own interests. When Edgar Bronfman accepted the presidency, he and his senior staff revitalized the organization through senior staff replacement, movement of the WJC offices, active public relations efforts, and reaching out to Jews in the smallest communities to bring them into WJC operations. Support from the WZO continued, but, with the new infusions of funding due to Bronfman's involvement, the WZO's contribution of five hundred thousand dollars a year became an increasingly smaller share of the WJC budget.

Government of Israel. The government of the State of Israel now acts as a principal defender of the physical welfare of the Jewish people under certain circumstances (for example, dealing with Nazi war criminals and terrorists) and maintains that it does so in the name of the edah. Thus, the security forces of Israel sometimes defend all Jews, the Knesset of Israel plays a major role in defining their status as Jews, and the prime minister or president sometimes speaks in their name. Beyond that, the government of Israel is involved in all major decisions of world Jewry that it chooses to be, formally or informally. If the State of Israel is directly affected, then its government usually will be formally involved. In any case, its voice carries great weight.

World Jewry directly spends between forty and forty-five billion dollars of public funds for its functions or sustenance. Those funds are drawn from Israeli taxpayers and diaspora contributors. Perhaps ten percent of those funds go directly to the world purposes of the world Jewish polity, including the transportation and absorption of Jews emigrating from lands of stress to lands of freedom, principally Israel.

The relationship between these Big Five organizations is partly constitutionalized and partly informal. It is portrayed perhaps in its best form as a triangular relationship. The State of Israel is located at the middle of the triangle and has links to all four voluntary organizations. Those with JAFI and the WZO are institutionalized and constitutionalized. So is the relationship between the WZO and JAFI. The WZO also has a less extensive constitutionalized relationship with WJC. JAFI does not have a formally constitutionalized relationship with JDC but shares with it common funding and leadership and a long history of cooperation in one form or another. The least linkage is between WJC and JDC except when on an ad hoc cooperative basis. The State of Israel, on the other hand, has regular ad hoc and contractual relationships with both.

Instruments of the Keter Torah and Keter Kehunah

Because the new pluralism in Jewish life has generated differing interpretations of the Torah-as-constitution, the keter torah is organized on clearly sectoral lines. Within it, older institutions and officers continue to serve various segments of the edah in more or less traditional ways. At the same time, others have changed and new institutions have emerged to serve other groups in new ways and to maintain traditional patterns. Hence there are no keter torah organizations among the key organizations as such, although the keter torah is represented in some way in all of them.

Outstanding among the survivors from the previous epoch are a limited number of posekim (halakhic decision-makers) with edah-wide influence in their own camp and some similarly placed yeshivot. The chief posekim of the Ashkenazic ultra-Orthodox are organized in the Moetzet Gedolei haTorah (Council of Torah Greats). Hassidic groups, whose centers are now transplanted either to Israel or to the United States, also survive (although their principal officer is now usually a rebbe, not a tzaddik). Conspicuous among those groups are the Chabad (Lubavitcher) Hassidim, one of the few Hassidic sects that attempts to reach out to the edah. More recently, a Sephardic Moeztet Hakhmei haTorah (Council of Torah Sages) has emerged, comprising leading posekim in the Sephardic world.

Non-Orthodox representatives of this keter are found primarily in or around seminaries of their movements, reflecting the combination of rabbinical and professorial status that marks the effort of the non-Orthodox to combine modern and traditional forms. Because the Reform movement is much less oriented to the concept of the keter torah than the Conservative, this phenomenon is more pronounced among the latter. In recent years, both movements have been given increasing emphasis to the rule of their rabbinical associations in deciding issues of Jewish law and custom.

Prominent among the new institutions in this keter are the professors of Jewish studies at Israeli and other universities who have acquired status as constitutional commentators and guides. These, and others drawn from the intellectual community, address themselves to Jewish concerns in an academic fashion; in so doing they lay the groundwork for new interpretations of the Torah-as-constitution. Many of the most prominent of them were also ordained as rabbis but who chose academic careers or at least academic bases for their careers. This gives them a double source of authority.

The same can be said of the keter kehunah only more so. The domain of the keter kehunah embraces various rabbinates and synagogue bodies that are occupied with ritual functions and their management. Some instruments of this keter have become more highly organized than at any time since the destruction of the Second Temple. The world synagogue movements and the organized rabbinates in the United Kingdom and Israel are outstanding examples. The rabbinates are important because they provide examples of how medinah-based instruments of this keter now attempt to perform an edah-wide function. For example, the Israeli chief rabbinate provides direct services for some small communities (e.g., Iran, India) as does the United Kingdom rabbinate of the United Synagogue for some communities in countries that once were part of the British Empire. The World Council of Synagogues (Conservative, established 1957) and the World Union for Progressive Judaism (Reform, established 1926) are associations of countrywide congregational bodies.

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