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NEW YORK - Concerns that North American Jewish federations would reduce their annual funding to the Jewish Agency for Israel in 2004 were proven groundless this week at a special meeting in New York of the heads of the United Jewish Communities (UJC).

At Monday's meeting, the UJC's Overseas Needs Assessment and Distribution Committee (ONAD) decided that the Jewish Agency will receive $143 million from the federations, while efforts will be made to raise an additional $20 million that will be equally divided between the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).

Israeli sources expressed satisfaction over the fact that the UJC not only did not reduce its allocation to the agency, but increased it by $10 million. Jewish Agency Chairman Salai Meridor called the decision "very positive," adding: "This is an important decision, especially considering that Israel's social needs are great."

Another decision made at the meeting was to leave JDC's share of the allocation at $50 million. The JDC reportedly invests some $40 million annually in social service projects in Israel. Thus between its allocations to the Jewish Agency and the JDC, the UJC will send nearly $200 million to Israel for various social programs in 2004.

In addition, the UJC's Emergency Fund will send another $200 million to Israel next year.

Concerns over a possible cut in the UJC allocation to Israel prompted a special meeting between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and senior UJC officials in Jerusalem last month during the UJC's General Assembly. Labor Party Chairman Shimon Peres sent a letter last week to the UJC in which he also urged the organization not to cut its funding to Israel.

UJC officials denied that there was ever any intention of reducing the allocation to the Jewish Agency. But a senior Israeli official told Haaretz that "as little as a week ago, a proposal for a significant cut in the allocation to the Jewish Agency was still on the table."

According to ONAD chairman Steve Klinghoffer, "exhausting negotiations" were required before the sides reached general agreement about the size of the allocation to the agency.

Israeli officials involved in the negotiations said they believe the decision not to cut the allocation was in part due to their success in slowing what they called "a trend to prefer assistance for Jewish needs in Russia and needy communities in Argentina over allocations to social projects in Israel."