JNF Spent More on Fundraising Than It Actually Raised in 2020

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A JNF donations box.
A JNF donations box.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael) spent more on its fundraising efforts in 2020 than it actually raised in donations, its draft financial statement for the year reveals.

For 2020 the JNF posted revenues of 2.8 billion shekels from selling and leasing land (bought in the distant past) to the state, compared with 2.2 billion shekels in 2019, an increase of 600 million shekels. Altogether the land still in its possession is worth about 10.3 billion shekels, according to the draft report.

But the organization’s revenues from donations in 2020 shrank to 55.5 million shekels, compared with 93 million shekels in 2019 while its spending on fundraising came to 55.9 million shekels. That is 10 percent lower than the year before, but it indicates that the JNF’s fundraising apparatus, involving representatives in Israel and around the world, whose job is raise money from the Jewish people – lost money last year.

Consistently, over the years the JNF has used most of the money it receives from donations to pay for its own fundraising system. The organization itself claims the figure cited for costs is general, not on fundraising alone.

Management and administrative expenses were cut by 10 percent last year compared to 2019, but still amounted to 125 million shekels. JNF-USA is a separate entity from KKL-JNF.

Last week the JNF board was asked to approve half a million shekels in pay for the accounting firm Ernst & Young Israel–Kost Forer Gabbay & Kasierer. The firm had separately been paid 2.6 million shekels for a second opinion regarding what JNF calls a “strategic” information systems project, along with 87,000 shekels more approved at the beginning of June.

The JNF employs more than 1,000 people. Its potential pension and severance liabilities for all its workers come to about 3.8 billion shekels, according to its financials.

The JNF financial figures matter for several reasons, one being that in December, its agreement to transfer 2 billion shekels a year to the state between 2016 to 2021, ends. The battle over how much the JNF will be giving the state after 2021 will be starting within a few months and we can expect fireworks, considering the ramp-up in JNF’s revenues and the burgeoning government deficit.

Anyone who remembers the fights on the issue during the term of former Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon can appreciate what awaits new Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Some JNF board members would prefer to exploit the increased revenues to allocate more to youth movements, JNF projects for counselors overseas, or to the committee that manages its land and property – all of which suffered from cuts during the coronavirus year. The Finance Ministry may have other plans for the money, though at this point, Lieberman’s policies are not known. However, his party Yisrael Beiteinu had been part of the coalition that had reached the agreement ending this year with the JNF. That agreement had included adding $18 million a year in JNF funding for the World Zionist Federation to $40.5 million a year, and a 50 percent increase in funding for other Zionist organizations to 30 million shekels a year.

Meanwhile the JNF board underwent much change following the establishment of the new government. Director Ron Katz from Yesh Atid resigned after he entered the Knesset, as did Alon Tal, a vice chairman of the JNF, who is now an MK for Kahol Lavan. Vice chairman Amir Schneider was appointed Liberman’s chief of staff and also resigned from the board – and another director, vice chairman Naama Schultz of Yesh Atid, left after being appointed the director general of the Alternative Prime Minister’s Office. Another director who has still not yet announced his resignation but is expected to: the new chief of staff for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Tal Gan Zvi.

The JNF stated in response that “the information regarding income from donations is incorrect. The expenses cited include for the JNF’s external relations activities in totality, including strengthening the connection with the Jewish world in a broad range of areas and in developing relations with the Jewish communities and international organizations in the JNF’s core areas.” Only some of this amount was for fundraising and the mounts raised are, of course, “significantly higher than the direct expenses involved in raising them,” the JNF stated.

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