In what has been described as “a closeted and cowardly move,” the Jewish Federations of North America last week rejected the inclusion of the term “Zionism” in a major system-wide planning document.
The JFNA’s Global Planning Table is the mechanism by which JFNA and Federation leadership come together to determine the allocation of dollars for new Federation initiatives outside of the United States. The Report issued by this collaborative is considered a building block of the allocations decision making process, and it was the call to include Zionism in the recent report that was rejected. The Global Planning Table page of the JFNA website does not include either the term Zionism or Israel.
Richard Wexler, former chair of the Chicago Federation and national chairman of the United Jewish Appeal in the late ’90′s, revealedyesterday, July 26, that JFNA’s leaders have rejected the inclusion of the term “Zionism” in their Global Planning Table Work Group Report because the term “is too controversial.”
In 2008 Wexler stepped down from his position as chairman of the United Israel Appeal, a subsidiary of what later became the JFNA. He also was one of the architects of the merger of United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group for the local Federations. Even while in a leadership position, however, Wexler was critical of the management culture, writing in his UJ Thee and Me” that “criticism is not merely ignored, it is not tolerated.”“
Some fear the JFNA move will be seen as a watered-down acceptance of the notion that Zionism is to blame for the problems in the Middle East, or at the very least an effort to hold at arms length the idea that Jews are entitled to a national.
“I am beyond disappointed and upset,” Wexler told The Jewish Press, about the decision to hide from the idea of Zionism. He said, “that is at the heart of all we do.”
Members of the GPT work group who wereat the meeting and frustrated by the outcome told Wexler about the decision.
One of those most closely involved in this decision making effort was Joanne Moore, senior vice president for JFNA’s Global Planning Department. Moore oversees the Global Planning Table, JFNA’s research department andAssembly.
Prior to joining JFNA, Moore, a former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, spent more than a dozen yearsUSAID-funded public health projects in Africa, Haiti and Asia. She also was a consultant to the Institute of . In addition, Moore had been a lay leader in various capacities for JFNA. Moore did not respond to a request for comment.
The rejection of Zionism by JFNA leaders was described by Wexler in his blogpost and in comments to The Jewish Press, as a continuing trend by Federations to distance themselves from Israel.
Several years ago, Federations changed the name of their non-domestic efforts, which had been called their Israel and Overseas Department, to the Global Operations Department. In response to pushback from local leaders, the name was changed once again to Global Operations: Israel and Overseas.
Further evidence of this trend, according to Wexler, is afrom the close connections the JFNA had with its actual overseas partners, the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and the Jewish for Israel.
Acknowledging that there might be better, more efficient ways for the Federations to encourage North American Jewry with Israel than through the Joint or JAFI, he was adamant that this latest decision — the excision of the term Zionism from their planning documents — was morally disastrous.
“What we cannot permit is an implicit denial of the centrality of Israel in our lives and a denial [of] the absolute responsibility we as Diaspora Jewish leaders have to engage more Jews here with Israel.”