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Responding to Amb. Shoval: Judge us based on who we are, not who we were

I invite you to come see The Jewish Agency for yourself. You'll surely like our upgrades of the past 4 years – and of course our assistance to Ukrainian Jews
Jewish Ukrainians leave a hotel and are headed for the airport to board a plane of The Jewish Agency as they make their way to Israel, March 6, 2022 in Warsaw, Poland. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Jewish Ukrainians leave a hotel and are headed for the airport to board a plane of The Jewish Agency as they make their way to Israel, March 6, 2022 in Warsaw, Poland. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Dear Ambassador Shoval,

I was disappointed and frankly somewhat puzzled to read your recent piece regarding The Jewish Agency for Israel.

Upon reading some of your sweeping allegations against The Jewish Agency, I reflected that as the chairman of the Board of Governors of The Jewish Agency for the last five years, I have not seen you at a single meeting, program, or indeed at any of our current operations. Your past experience, however long ago, is hardly relevant to the current professionalism of our staff nor to the outstanding commitments of time, resources, and intelligence by our global lay Board of Directors.

Had you been involved more recently, you would know that we undertook a strategic planning process four years ago that is now fully implemented.

  • We invited supporters and critics alike to participate in that strategic process.
  • We fully aligned our spending with our three strategic areas of impact: aliyah, connecting Jews worldwide to each other and to Israel, and strengthening Israeli society.
  • Our committees are active and fully engaged in our approach to have voices heard from communities, large and small, at our truly global Jewish table.
  • We bring all the religious streams together, in Israel and beyond, in a way unmatched by any other organization in the Jewish world.
  • We have enhanced our ethics, standards and governance.
  • We are building an organization for present and future relevance and sustainability.

This is, of course, to say nothing of our 24-hour/day efforts at this very moment to save Jewish lives in Ukraine and bring new olim (immigrants) to Israel.

In terms of your criticism of our chairman-of-the-executive nominating process, I would remind you that the members of the committee are a reflection of the three organizations that make up the Agency — World Zionist Organization, Jewish Federations of North America and Keren Hayesod. Having spent countless hours with that committee, I can personally attest to the fact that, while this process is difficult, it is designed to create some form of consensus among the major constituencies of world Jewry. I can also assure you that when — not if — a chair-of-the-executive is selected, it will not be the “local party hack” you refer to. It will be a Jewish leader who will follow in the footsteps of Natan Sharansky and Isaac Herzog, giving a voice to world Jewry’s concerns, and not just the Israeli perspective.

Mr. Ambassador, I invite you to join us at the current Jewish Agency and judge us based on who we are, not who we were. We welcome you and all others to advance our mission and continue our Jewish journey together. I know you will appreciate and be astonished by our professionalism at the highest standards of global governance. As a diplomat, I would have expected more due diligence and less cynicism and emotion. I apologize for your previous bad experience with the Agency. But, as we rescue Jewish refugees from Ukraine at this time, and with the expectation of aliyah increasing from that part of the world, your timing could not have been less diplomatic.

Sincerely,

Michael Siegal
Chairman of the Board of Governors
The Jewish Agency for Israel

About the Author
Michael Siegal is chairman of the Board of Governors of The Jewish Agency for Israel.
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