The sudden departure this month of the Jewish Agency's veteran chief financial officer, Yaron Neudorfer, is sending shock waves through the cash-strapped organization as it grapples with a severe budget deficit.
Neudorfer, who announced his resignation last month, is set to leave the Jewish Agency next week. The speedy manner of his departure, the fact that no new CFO has been appointed, and the febrile atmosphere within the agency - the largest international Jewish organization coordinating global aliyah and Jewish education from Israel - has spawned a slew of theories about the circumstances leading up to his resignation, and whether it was forced upon him.
In his term as CFO, Neudorfer oversaw continuous rounds of cuts, layoffs and restructuring. Each was part of a never-ending attempt to overcome a slump in fundraising and the global depression.
"He survived so long due to his political abilities," says a former senior agency official. "He built a strong alliance with Saul Silver, the powerful former chairman of the agency's finance and budget committee. Many in the organization believed that the free rein he was given by Silver allowed him to make financial decisions over the head of then director-general Moshe Vigdor. When Vigdor was replaced a year and a half ago by Alan Hoffmann, a showdown was inevitable."
Misha Galperin, another new appointee at the agency who was hired in mid-2010 as the chief fundraiser, also apparently had a stormy relationship with Neudorfer. "After Hoffmann was appointed director-general and Galperin the head of fundraising, the organization basically had two senior executives at the helm, neither of them men of action," says one agency insider. "One is a philosopher, the other a fundraiser, and Neudorfer inserted himself into the vacuum. ... Nothing moved without his authorization, and he used his power effectively. Hoffmann and Galperin resented that and tried to make his life a misery until he finally decided to leave."
There are differing views of Neudorfer's record with the Jewish Agency. Some criticize him for his high-handed conduct and blame him for not doing more in a period of budget-cutting to limit executive pay. Galperin's salary especially came in for criticism after Haaretz published two months ago that his annual remuneration is in the region of three-quarters of a million dollars.
"You can't blame Neudorfer for the agency's deficit," says one employee. "That is due to the slump in fundraising. But he was the one who approved the crazy terms of Galperin's contract. He should have raised a red flag against that."
Neudorfer, however, has many advocates in the agency who emphasize that the terms of Galperin's employment were agreed on by chairman Natan Sharansky and that Neudorfer did not even sign his contract.
"Who said the moneyman should be friendly?" says one of the departing CFO's defenders. "He didn't try to make friends or win popularity contests. The CFO isn't going to be anyone's favorite executive anyway, certainly not in an organization going through deep budgetary cuts. Last July, he preferred to fly to a triathlon contest instead of attending the board of governors. He didn't want to build new alliances there. He thought he could rely on his capabilities as CFO."
Neudorfer declined to answer questions about his resignation, noting only that "after six years and eight months, and at the age of 45, it's time to move on. It has no connection to any disagreement within the agency.
It doesn't matter who likes whom. There are so many crazy versions going around. Whoever knows me knows I have had a good term with many achievements."
Jewish Agency spokesman Haviv Rettig-Gur, meanwhile, says Neudorfer first announced his intention to leave "two years ago, after five years of work in the agency" in order to pursue "new challenges."
"Due to the strategic changes being planned, the director-general asked Yaron to stay for another two years and guide the changes," says Rettig-Gur. "This period has now ended. There is nothing more natural for a talented person to decide after seven years of dedication and proven success to embark on a new path. ... We categorically reject anonymous slurs against one of the finest executives the Jewish Agency has known in recent years."
One veteran agency official predicts a period of chaos following Neudorfer's departure. "They are losing the man who knows all the ins and outs of the budget and the strategic plans and have no one prepared to take his place at such short notice," says the official. Uri Yisraeli, the head of the budget department and the agency's number two moneyman, is also leaving the organization.
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