Jewish Agency For Israel - excerpt from Lee O'Brien, American Jewish Organizations and Israel, 1986

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This page is an extract, reproduced with permission, from Lee O'Brien, American Jewish Organizations and Israel, Washington DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1986. [1]

  • Year established: 1929; reorganized: 1960, 1971
  • Executive Chairwoman: Bernice Tannenbaum
  • Address: 515 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10022

The JA-American Section, which had been registered as the agent for the JA in Jerusalem, deregistered as a foreign agent in October 1971, while the WZO-American Section registered in September 1971 as the foreign agent of the WZO Executive in Jerusalem. With no further justification for the JA-American Section, the JA for Israel, Inc., a tax-exempt corporation in New York, became the sole legal recipient of the Israel-bound funds raised by the UJA-Federation annual appeals.


The reconstituted JA is governed by an assembly, a Board of Governors (BOG), and the Executive. The assembly meets once a year to receive reports from the BOG and the Executive, to review needs and programs, to determine basic policies, to consider and act upon budgets submitted by the BOG, and to elect officers. It is composed of 340 members, 170 for the WZO and 170 for diaspora Jews. The 170 appointed by the WZO include 38 percent from Israeli Zionist political parties, in proportion to their actual Knesset representation, and 62 percent non-Zionists, most of whom are connected to political parties in Israel. The 170 appointed by diaspora communities include 30 percent appointed by the UIA (UJA) and 20 percent by Keren Hayesod.

The BOG, with sixty-two members appointed in the same proportions as the assembly, manages the affairs of the JA and controls its activities. It appoints the members of the standing Budget and Finance Committee and other standing and ad hoc committees as it sees fit. The thirty-one WZO delegates to the BOG serve at the same time as members in the management of WZO. As a rule, the chair of the BOG is a non-Israeli Jew.

The Executive is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the JA, subject to the control of the BOG. The Executive has thirteen members, usually seven Israelis and six diaspora Jews, including the chair of the assembly (also the chair of the Executive), the chair of the BOG, the treasurer, the heads of the departments of Immigration and Absorption, Youth Aliyah, and Rural Settlement, the national chair of the UJA, the world chair of Keren Hayesod, and four members from the BOG not designated by the WZO (of whom two or three are designated by the UJA). The Executive, based in Jerusalem, constitutes the ‘cabinet’ of the JA. Indeed, holders of major posts in the Executive are paid on the same scale as the Israeli cabinet members. Competition for the heads of important departments and control over the budget generally takes place at the Zionist Congress. [2] When vacancies develop-as with the November 1983 removal of Rafael Kotlowitz as chair of the ahyah department-political fights occur outside the context of the Congress. In this case, Ariel Sharon was nominated as the Berut candidate to chair both the WZO and JA aliyah divisions, since one person traditionally fills both posts.

The Jewish Agency for Israel, Inc. in New York is a corporation organized under the membership corporation law of the state of New York. In 1963, the members of the corporation were the UIA and the JA-American Section. The corporation is governed by a board of directors of twenty-seven members, two-thirds designated by the UJA and one-third by the JA-American Section.


The JA's annual budget is covered primarily from funds raised by American Jewry (through the UJA) and by world Jewry (through Keren Hayesod). The UJA income through the UIA constitutes more than 60 percent of the JA's annual operating budget. Since 1971, the UJA/UIA alone has provided about $3 billion to the JA, more than 65 percent of the Agency's operating budget. The JA's share of the American money is much greater if one takes into consideration the more than $240 million provided by the U.S. government between 1972 and 1982 toward the resettlement of Soviet and Eastern European Jews. These funds have constituted nearly 7 percent of the JA's total budget. Since 1948, the JA has expended at least $6.5 billion in Israel; about 70 percent was spent since its reorganization in 1971.

Though UJA's funds go to the JA (and not the WZO), the UJA does finance a part of the WZO's budget indirectly. WZO's income for 1981/1982 consisted of $36.5 million from Keren Hayesod and $15.5 million from the Israeli government. The JA's income that year consisted mainly of UIA funds ($247.2 million) and Keren Hayesod funds ($35.9 million). To cover the JA's $60.8 million debt payments for that year, UIA paid about 75 percent ($45.6 million) and Keren Hayesod, about 25 percent ($15.2 million). [3]

'Another nominee, the deputy chair of the Jewish National Fund, told the Jerusalem Post that the candidate would be selected "not according to one's qualifications, but according to which political groupings in Herut and elsewhere support the candidate." Sharon was defeated, despite strong support from Prime Minister Shamir, by a vote of 59 to 48.[2]


  1. This page is reproduced by permission of the Institute of Palestine Studies, granted on 25 February 2014. The Institute retains copyright of all material.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Jerusalem Post, 1 January 1984; Washington Post, 12 January 1984.
  3. Sources for JA structure and funding: Eliezer Jaffe, Wanted: A New Agency, Moment. April 1983: 62-63, The Jewish Agency for Israel: A Brief Description; JA American Section IRS Form 990 for the year from 1 April 1982 to 31 March 1983.