Haaretz Exclusive: |

Jewish Agency Loses Key Christian Funder Over PR Demands

Eckstein’s International Fellowship for Christians and Jews decides to stop donating to the Jewish Agency and promote its own aliyah activities instead.

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Yechiel Eckstein in the offices of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews: 'I would never want to say that Christian money is replacing Jewish money, but we are definitely filling in the gaps.'
Yechiel Eckstein in the offices of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews: 'I would never want to say that Christian money is replacing Jewish money, but we are definitely filling in the Credit: Emil Salman
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

The Jewish Agency recently lost one of its major benefactors, the International Fellowship for Christians and Jews, because it refused to accept a long list of conditions for continued support that were meant to provide the Christian evangelical-funded organization with much greater visibility, it can now be revealed.

Last week the IFCJ announced its plans last week to withdraw millions of dollars in annual support for Jewish Agency-funded activities and to create its own independent operation for bringing Jewish immigrants to Israel. The decision was prompted by the Jewish Agency’s refusal to accept a list of 22 conditions presented by the IFCJ – one of the largest private charities operating in Israel – in exchange for its continued support of the quasi-governmental agency’s aliyah operation, IFCJ founder Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein confirmed to Haaretz.

A document obtained by Haaretz contains the full list of conditions, most of which would have required the Jewish Agency to undertake initiatives and organize activities aimed at generating publicity and media buzz for Eckstein and his organization.

The IFCJ demanded, as part of its conditions, that all the special flights it was chartering to bring immigrants to Israel have the words “Friendship Flight” displayed on the aircraft in order to “articulate the centrality of the IFCJ,” according to the document. In Israel, the IFCJ is known as “Keren Hayedidut,” or “Friendship Fund” in English.

The Jewish Agency would have been responsible for providing passengers on all these flights with airline tickets and postcards bearing the IFCJ logo, as well as personal letters from Eckstein. The document notes that “in due course additional ideas will be added that highlight the leadership of the IFCJ for relevant aliyah groups.”

Asked why the IFCJ insists on receiving so much publicity, credit and acknowledgement as a condition for its charity-giving, Yehiel told Haaretz it was important for his 1.4 million Christian donors to be acknowledged for the financial sacrifices they made for the Jewish people.

“If you’re going to accept funds from us, you need to make it public,” he said. “We’re not going to be the stepchild where you’re accepting funds from Christians because you want it, but then you’re not publicly saying ‘thank you’ to the Christian community for supporting us.”

He noted that other organizations supported by the IFCJ, such as the Joint Distribution Committee and Chabad, had no problem with this requirement.

The IFCJ raises close to $140 million a year from Christians around the world to support various projects in Israel, with a major portion of the sum invested in promoting aliyah and assisting immigrants once they arrive in the country. In the past 15 years, the organization had contributed between $10 million and $12 million a year to the Jewish Agency to support these activities.

Several years ago, the IFCJ had offered to increase its annual contributions to the Jewish Agency to $15 million in exchange for becoming a full partner in the organization – equivalent in status to Keren Hayesod (the United Israel Appeal), the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Federations of North America – with its name appearing on the Jewish Agency letterhead, Eckstein said. After this request was rejected, the IFCJ agreed to maintain its existing level of annual contributions if in exchange the Jewish Agency would accept its list of 22 conditions.

The document listing the conditions notes that in exchange for the Jewish Agency providing “concrete and active expression to the work of the IFCJ,” Eckstein’s organization would have agreed to finance the costs involved in flying to Israel three-to-four planeloads a year of immigrants mainly from the former Soviet Union. In addition, it would have agreed to finance the costs of airline tickets for all “lone soldiers” – young Jews from abroad who volunteer for army service in Israel, where they have no immediate family.

Here are some of the other conditions presented by the IFCJ for its continued support of Jewish Agency aliyah activities:

* For all immigrants arriving in Israel on the IFCJ’s tab – both on charter and regular flights – the Jewish Agency would put up signs in the arrivals hall “highlighting the role of the IFCJ in bringing them to Israel.”

* A film containing an address to the immigrants from Eckstein, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky would be screened on all “Friendship” flights.

* The Jewish Agency would make special efforts to create media events for Friendship flights arriving at Ben-Gurion International Airport from the former Soviet Union “based upon the model of Nefesh b’Nefesh flights from the United States.” (Nefesh b’Nefesh is a private agency that promotes and oversees aliyah from English-speaking countries on behalf of the government).

* A special film on aliyah from the former Soviet Union and other distressed countries where the IFCJ is active would be shown on all flights operated by El Al, the national carrier (not just on those flights carrying new immigrants).

* The Jewish Agency would identify a “moving personal story” on each flight so that Eckstein or one of his representatives could accompany that particular immigrant or family of immigrants on their journey to Israel.

* Upon the arrival of each “Friendship” flight, the Jewish Agency would publish a message thanking the IFCJ.

* The Jewish Agency would arrange for an “inspirational” ceremony upon the arrival of each “Friendship” flight. The prime minister and the president of Israel would each participate in at least one such ceremony, and Eckstein would also be “a primary orator at the ceremonies.”

* Reporters from Yedioth Ahronoth, one of Israel’s mass-circulation newspapers, would receive special preference in covering human interest stories involving passengers on “Friendship” flights. (Last year, Nati Toker reported in Haaretz that the IFCJ had been funding an estimated $1 million-worth of subscriptions a year to Yedioth Ahronoth, for distribution at some 1,000 clubs for the elderly around Israel. The story noted that in exchange, the newspaper had agreed to publish features promoting the IFCJ.)

* The Jewish Agency would guarantee that at every important event in which its representatives participated and spoke “details of IFCJ participation and gratitude to the IFCJ and to Rabbi Eckstein will be highlighted.”

* The Jewish Agency would initiate activities to honor IFCJ donors.

* The Jewish Agency would “create wide publicity buzz” for its cooperation with the IFCJ. Some suggestions for generating such attention listed in the document are that Sharansky mentions IFCJ activities in his keynote address to the annual General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America and that the Jewish Agency hosts Eckstein or one of his representatives at a “distinguished donor forum.”

* The Jewish Agency would initiate coverage in the Jewish press about the immigrants coming on IFCJ flights before their arrival in Israel.

* The Jewish Agency would organize a “publicized” joint tour of Eckstein, Sharansky and Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver to institutions supported by the IFCJ around the world.

* The Jewish Agency would explore the possibility of hosting an “on the runway” event for new immigrants in various countries, to be attended by Netanyahu, Sharansky and Eckstein.

* The Jewish Agency would organize an annual reception for new immigrants at the president’s residence “where Rabbi Eckstein will speak as a major partner in the effort to bring them home.”

Asked to comment on the document, Eckstein said that he had not seen the final version until just recently, as negotiations with the Jewish Agency were handled by his representatives.

“It took them two months to get back to us and let us know that they couldn’t accept these conditions,” said Eckstein. “We asked them what points were difficult for them to accept so that maybe we could change some things, but we never heard back from them. The bottom line is that now there is no framework for a relationship between us, and as a donor who’s already provided them with $140 million in funding, we have no obligation to them.”

Eckstein noted one major reason for his decision to break away from the Jewish Agency was that the goals of the two organizations have changed: The Jewish Agency has taken a strategic decision to put less focus on immigration activities, he said, whereas the IFCJ has taken a strategic decision to put more resources into aliyah.

"We do not consider it appropriate to comment on internal conversations with members of our Board," the Jewish Agency told Haaretz.

"We would, however, like to note that the notion that The Jewish Agency has somehow abandoned Aliyah is utterly false. The Jewish Agency's Strategic Plan—which Rabbi Eckstein repeatedly voted to adopt as a valued member of our Executive Committee—places Aliyah at the very core of our efforts, and we are seeing those efforts bear fruit as Aliyah from Western countries and the entire world hits new heights. That increasing numbers of immigrants are coming to Israel after having gone through the continuum of Jewish Agency programs and experiences delineated by the Strategic Plan is the greatest affirmation that the plan works.

"As we seek to collect the resources to enable us to serve this new wave of Aliyah, we welcome the involvement of any group or individual who wishes to support these efforts, and are pleased to see that support come from many sources, Jewish and non-Jewish alike."

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