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Reform Movement Launches Own Fund Drive As Concern Over UJA Grows

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
July-August 1998

The Reform movement is launching a fund-raising drive for its institutions in Israel, billing itself as the "one address" for contributions to the cause, in a message which The Forward (July 17, 1998) describes as "amounting to a slap in the face of the United Jewish Appeal-Council of Jewish Federations."  

The initiative was announced in a letter to Reform rabbis sent by the Association of Reform Zionists of America and the World Union of Progressive Judaism and the president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Rabbi Eric Yoffie.  

The Forward reports: "The announcement is placing additional stress on the already tense relationship between the liberal Jewish religious movements and the UJA-CJF partnership, the major philanthropic body that raised $750 million a year for Jewish needs worldwide. Reform and Conservative rabbis have accused the UJA-CJF of inadequately addressing the issue of religious pluralism in Israel, citing insufficient fund raising for a supplemental ‘unity campaign’ for the religious streams in Israel and too weak a position on the issue of conversions conducted by Reform and Conservative rabbis in Israel."  

In a round-table titled "Just Say ‘NO’ To UJA?" conducted by Tikkun (July/August 1998), a group of Jewish leaders discussed whether contributions to the UJA served charitable purposes or encouraged Israeli government policies with which the majority of American Jews disagree.  

Benjamin Ben-Baruch, a sociologist who serves on the board of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, declared:  

"I believe it is unethical to give to the UJA for several reasons: First, the UJA is the fundraising arm of the Zionist Organization/Jewish Agency. These are political institutions, not philanthropic institutions, and giving money to them is putting money directly into the hands of Israeli politicians who advocate the very policies that many American Jews oppose . . . Second, giving to the Jewish Agency through the UJA supports a discriminatory, two-tiered system of social services; the Jewish Agency provides social services almost exclusively to Jews. Since it administers and provides some funding for important social service functions that would otherwise be provided by the government, basic social services are denied to Israeli Arab citizens. American Jews ought not to be involved in a process of discriminatory allocations of social services."  

Prof. Gordon Fellman of Brandeis University, who chairs its Peace and Conflict Studies program, argues that the ultra-Orthodox settlers on the West Bank "could be playing the role of the zealots 2000 years ago. These are people who believe that they know God’s will, who seem to be committed to ignoring larger regional, global and historical circumstances, and anything that we do that does not actively discourage them is immoral. If we do give money to the UJA that is used for social services in Israel, I suspect that frees up other monies that Israel used for support of these settler groups and their supporters . . . By not objecting to what is going on in Israel, we implicitly sanction it (even if in private we don’t really approve of it)."  

Michael Paley, executive director of synagogue and community affairs at UJA/Federation of New York urged that, despite legitimate criticism, funds should not be cut off. He said: "Part of the good news that people need to recognize is that the UJA/Federation world is really changing . . . We need to get the message out that this is our organization and we can shape it. You can get yourself heard in these contexts.  

TIKKUN notes that, "For years, many American Jews have sent money to alternative funds, like the New Israel Fund, to bankroll specific projects in Israel they wished to support. Today, the question being asked is not whether these other routes are appropriate, but whether to take a further step and stop giving to the UJA/Federation until it stops giving money to Israel’s Jewish Agency."  

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