World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency - excerpt from Lee O'Brien, American Jewish Organizations and Israel, 1986

From Powerbase
Jump to: navigation, search

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]

The primary structural framework for the interaction of American Zionist and non-Zionist groups within the Zionist establishment is provided by the World Zionist Organization (WZO) and the Jewish Agency (JA), respectively. Article 4 of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine recognized the WZO as an independent body of the ‘Jewish people’ and stipulated that, should it be desired at any time to establish an ‘agency’ to consist not only of Zionist membership but also of other Jews who might wish to partake in the building of the country, this 'agency' would also be recognized. In 1919, the WZO became that body; in 1929, it was supplemented by the enlarged Jewish Agency, conceived as the forum for non-Zionist participation in the Zionist structure.[2] The 1929 agreement specified that JA membership would be determined on the basis of parity, with 50 percent nominated by the WZO and the other 50 percent by Jewish communities and personalities representing the non-Zionists. By the 1930s, however, it was clear that this arrangement was not being implemented as planned. In practice, the WZO was appointing not only its allotted half of the JA membership; but also the non-Zionist representatives from countries where American non-Zionists had no organizational base or constituency. In addition, since the American non-Zionists had no central coordinating body of their own, they were at a disadvantage when confronted by the highly organized representatives of the WZO. As a result, the JA, nominally the ‘sister organization’ of the WZO, gradually evolved into its ‘operative arm.’

In 1944, the JA opened an office in New York City for its agent in the United States. Five years later, the office was changed to a full-fledged corporation, registered in New York under the name of the Jewish Agency Inc., and registered with the U.S. Department of Justice as a foreign agent working on behalf of the parent organization in Jerusalem.

In 1952, the Israeli Knesset promulgated a law on the status of the WZO-JA, establishing it as a legally registered, tax-exempt organization and regulating the relationship between the WZO-JA and the Israeli government. The 1952 law and the ensuing Covenant of 1954 set up the WZO and its arm, the JA, as an extraterritorial Zionist institution. According to the Covenant, its functions were to be

The organization of immigration abroad and the transfer of immigrants and their property to Israel; participation in the absorption of immigrants in Israel; Youth Immigration; agricultural settlement in Israel; the acquisition and amelioration of land in Israel by institutions of the Zionist Organization, the Keren Kayemeth Leisrael and the Keren Hayesod; participation in the establishment and the expansion of development enterprises in Israel; the encouragement of private capital investments in Israel; assistance to cultural enterprises and institutions of higher learning in Israel; the mobilization of resources for financing these functions; the coordination of the activities in Israel of Jewish institutions and organizations acting within the sphere of these functions with the aid of public funds. [3]

In 1959, the name ‘Jewish Agency, Inc.’ was changed to ‘Jewish Agency for Israel, Inc.’ A year later, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Inc. was reorganized, according to JA officials

In order to provide a closer identification on the part of the people who raised funds with the problems of actual operations in the field, and in order to satisfy the requirements of the Internal Revenue Service. [4]

As a result of the reorganization, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Inc. cancelled its registration as a foreign agent and was granted tax-exempt status. An additional organization, the Jewish Agency-American Section, was created in New York and registered as the new foreign agent working on behalf of the JA in Jerusalem.

At that point, the activities of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Inc. were to be confined to:

The administration of the expenditure of United Jewish Appeal(UJA) proceeds intended for Israel. In actuality, as the Fulbright hearings showed in 1963, the UJA did more than administer the Israel bound UJA funds. It used the American Zionist Council (AZC) among other organizations, as a conduit for the disbursement of funds in the United States in accordance with directions from the WZO-JA in Jerusalem. In the aftermath of the hearings, the Department of Justice amended the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, and the AZC was abolished. In 1969, the Justice Department forced the JA-American Section to file the 1954 Covenant as a required document in its foreign agent registration, [5]

With the JA increasingly turning into an arm of the Israeli state, and the role of diaspora Jewish communities confined to fundraising, the ambiguous status of the JA was bringing pressure to bear on the tax exempt status of the United Jewish Appeal (UJA). At the same time that American Jews became more active in pro-Israel work after 1967 and the amount of money raised for Israel dramatically increased, the non-Zionist members demanded greater diaspora participation in the UJA's decision making process. The first step toward resolving both of these problems was the Reconstitution Agreement of 1971, concluded between the WZO (represented by Louis Pincus, chairman of the UJA Executive) and the United Israel Appeal (UIA) and Keren Hayesod (Foundation Fund) on behalf of Jewish fundraising bodies throughout the world (represented by Max Fisher, president of UIA and Jewish affairs advisor to President Richard Nixon).

One major result of the reorganization that was formalized in this agreement was the functional separation-on paper at least-of the JA and the WZO, mainly in order to protect the tax-exempt status of UJA funds channeled to the JA through the UIA. [6] According to the agreement:

The functions and tasks and programs administered by the Agency or to which it may contribute funds shall be only such as may be carried out by tax-exempt organizations, and these tasks were to include ‘immigration and absorption, support for educational and youth activities, particularly Youth Aliyah, absorption in agricultural settlements, and immigrant housing’.[7]

As for the WZO, the Reconstitution Agreement stipulates that:

The WZO and its institutions will continue as the organs of the Zionist Movement for the fulfillment of Zionist programs and ideals and, save as hereinafter stated, will continue to perform the functions and tasks enumerated in the said Law of Status and the said Covenant.[8]

More specifically, in 1971 the WZO:

Accepted the tasks of aliyah from the free nations of the world, education and culture in the Diaspora, information services, organization and membership, youth and hechalutz [pioneer] activities, and the functions of the Jewish National Fund.[9]

The other change mandated by the Reconstitution Agreement was a restructuring of the parity system for delegate selection in order to guarantee that the non-Zionist organizations were fairly represented. The 50 percent non-Zionist membership of the JA was now to be appointed by Keren Hayesod (or, in the United States, by the UIA, which is Keren Hayesod's American branch), thus providing the non-Zionists with an organizational structure, as well as increased political clout.

In practice, however, separation between the WZO and JA since 1971 is difficult to discern. WZO and JA world executives share the same chairman-since 1977, Leon Arieh Dulzin in Jerusalem. In the U.S., the WZO and JA have the same offices; many of the same people sit on their respective boards. The agencies have the same director general, have shared the same treasurer, and utilize the same publishing house. Genuine separation between the WZO-American Section and the reconstituted JA is further called into question by the fact that Bernice S. Tannenbaum, president of the WZO-American Section, is chairperson of the JA American Section. Major departments of immigration and absorption and agricultural settlements have two co-chairs, one each from the JA and the WZO. There is one trade union for employees of both organizations. In spite of the 1971 agreement, Israeli political parties have been unwilling to relinquish their control over an agency with such huge resources.

In February 1981, the JA board of governors convened a conference in Caesarea, Israel:

To review ten years of the reconstitution of the Jewish Agency and how the partnership is working out. [10]

The three issues posed for discussion were:

  • 1. Assuming the unity of the Jewish People, shall we assume the centrality and primacy of Israel?
  • 2. After ten years of reconstitution, and accepting the import of Israel, is the Jewish Agency doing what it should be doing (or are we doing what we are because we have always done it)?[10]
  • 3. How do you-the members of the Board-see the image of the Jewish Agency? What can we, as Board members, do to strengthen it? [10]

The results of the Caesarea Conference (also known as the Caesarea Process) show that while there are still ideological differences between Zionists and non-Zionists, these have become so secondary that they have lost any real impact. The concern of the non-Zionists was a pragmatic one:

They tended to urge more diaspora participation and less association with the WZO in the belief that such a focus would increase the efficacy of the JA. The Zionists pushed for non-Zionist endorsement of the Jerusalem Program-and received it-but in a fashion that participant Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, says represented no ideological victory for the Zionist cause. It was more an act of courtesy than an expression of new-found commitment. [10]

In his summation, the program director of the conference expressed the consensus reached as:

The well-being and destiny of the Jewish state is the business of all Jews, whether they live in Israel or the Diaspora; the well-being and destiny of the

Jewish people is the business of all Jews, whether they live in Israel or the Diaspora; the well-being and destiny of Israel and the Jewish people are one concern. [10]

In June 1983, the Zionist General Council passed a unanimous resolution in support of the Caesarea Process-an apparent act of reciprocity for the acceptance of the Jerusalem Program by the diaspora based fundraisers of the Jewish Agency. Commenting on these events, the World Confederation of United Zionists (WCUZ) notes:

This implies on the one hand a ‘Zionization’ of the Jewish Agency and, on the other, some depoliticization of the World Zionist Organization. It is no secret, however, that some parties in the WZO have their reservations about this in that they fear a possible watering down of Zionist ideologies by those who call themselves neo-Zionist [i.e. pro-Israeli American Jews] and a curtailment of the influence of the parties in the WZO. It is clear, however, that the fundraisers in the Jewish Agency are now inclined to accept the Zionist Program and to be involved in areas like Jewish education and support for Aliya in addition to their traditional fundraising activities. [11]

At present, more than a third of WZO members are Israelis, who are delegates of political parties or specific Zionist groupings; the remaining 62 percent are representatives of Zionist organizations in the United States or other countries, also aligned with a specific Israeli political party or trend. American Zionists actively participate with their Israeli counterparts, [10], in the debates of the Zionist Congress, held every four years, on the whole, delineations are based on political and ideological allegiances as opposed to identity conflicts between diaspora and Israeli Jews, with the occasional exception of the minority non-party Zionists.

JA members are now equally divided between WZO appointees (from Israeli political parties and Zionist groups) and United Israel Appeal (UIA) appointees from the diaspora (such as the leadership of the federations and the UJA) in what is essentially a partnership between the WZO and the neo-Zionist fundraisers, The JA is the recipient of the bulk of the UJA-Federation annual campaign funds raised by American Jews and earmarked for Israel; its function is to supply the funds and supervise the activities in the fields of

Immigration, absorption, agricultural settlement, education, health and welfare, while political activities are left to the WZO [11].


  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. * See Chapter 2, section on Council of Jewish Federations and Chapter 3, introduction.
  3. Covenant Between the Government of Israel and the Zionist Executive Also Called the Executive of the Jewish Agency, Jerusalem, 26 July 1954. Copy on file with the U.S. Department of Justice.
  4. U.S. Senate, Activities of Nondiplomatic Representatives of Foreign Principals in the United States, Hearings before the Committee on Foreign Relations, 88th Congress, First Session, 23 May 1963. (Fulbright Hearings.)
  5. Nancy Jo Nelson, ‘The Zionist Organizational Structure’, Journal of Palestine Studies, 1011 (Autumn 1980): 89.
  6. 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.
  7. Quotation from the 1971 Reconstitution Agreement, cited in The Jewish Agency for Israel: A Brief Description. UJA (ca. 1981).
  8. Founding Assembly of the Reconstituted Jewish Agency, Jerusalem, June 1971.
  9. WZO, Organization and Information Department. "”The World Zionist Organization."” 1972: 24.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 , Forum, special issue on Caesarea: The Jerusalem Program, 41 (Spring/Summer 1981).
  11. 11.0 11.1 WCUZ, In the Zionist Arena, Zionist Information Views, August-September 1983.