Reinventing World Jewry:
How to Design the World Jewish Polity
Daniel J. Elazar
Perhaps the best way to approach the roles of the other players in the world Jewish polity is through their relations with JAFI. A summary of those relationships for the past several decades would portray a relatively complex pattern of interrelationships which already has most of the principal world Jewish organizations linked to JAFI in one way or another. Indeed, the world Jewish polity is already manifested in a very real inter-organizational network. Let us look at a number of organizations in turn.
1. Agudath Israel World Organization (AIWO). AIWO was founded in 1912 by European ultra-Orthodox Jews to embrace those who rejected Zionism but were interested in the upbuilding of Eretz Israel in the traditional way without embracing what they saw as the rejection of God’s will by the Zionist movement. As a result, while AIWO rejected Zionism in a number of ways, it cooperated with the Zionist authorities in Eretz Israel, at least since the 1920s, and continues to do so. In the prestate period and subsequently, it instructed its members to vote in Israel’s elections, to sign Israel’s declaration of independence and, more recently, to participate in Israel government coalitions. As an organization, it is deliberately dominated by the Council of Torah Greats, rabbis they consider the leading halakhicketer torah but enables it to be involved in various activities of the keter malkhut through subsidiary leadership and institutions. AIWO does not seek to be in the mainstream of Jewish organizational life. Moreover, since the divisions which have taken place in the ultra-Orthodox camp in the 1980s, it no longer represents the world of ultra-Orthodoxy either, the way it once did, only parts of it. authorities in the world at any given time, but also representing the individual groups that together form Agudath Israel. The Council ties AIWO closely to the
Past Agudath Israel activities in the diaspora concentrated heavily on institution building, particularly yeshivot and schools, the rescue of Jews in difficult situations, whether from the nazis or from the Communists. It makes and has made extensive efforts in the sphere of traditional Jewish education at times in the past and presently and has received UIA funds via JAFI and grants from the JDC and the Israeli government principally in connection with education activities. It established the independent education system in Israel. AIWO is quite political. Prior to World War II it elected representatives to "Jewish seats" in various European parliaments and has always elected members to the Knesset. While it seems to be so out of the mainstream, in fact, because of its position in Israeli politics, it has more influence than might otherwise be expected. It also is one of the most traditionally organized of Jewish organizations in terms of providing space and roles for the three ketarim within its structure and assuming that part of being Jewish is maintaining a serious governance effort and being involved politically. Beyond that, while the total numbers of people counted as Agudat Israel’s constituency may be considerably smaller than the constituencies of the "mainstream" Jewish organizations, most of those in its constituency are serious members of the constituency, aware of its structure and functions and loyal to it, unlike most of the "members" of the mainstream constituencies who are probably not in any respect aware that they are even being counted within them.
2. Alliance Israelite Universelle. The oldest of all world Jewish organizations and undisputably within the keter malkhut, the AIU was founded in France in 1860 by French Jewish emancipationist assimilationists who sought to secure Jewish rights in the lands of the east and at the same time to educate Jews to be citizens of their respective countries. In the late 19th century, AIU established a network of schools in the Balkans, Asia, and North Africa where it made a major contribution to Jewish efforts to leave their backward and isolated conditions. Its role declined when French influence was replaced by American in the twentieth century and English became the new world language. Not only did the French-speaking AIU lose its leading role, but it was further weakened by the evacuation of the Jewish populations of the Muslim lands after 1948. Today it is only a shadow of its former self. As a French-based organization, it has difficulty playing a role in a predominantly English-speaking Jewish world. Its schools do receive subsidies from JDC and its leadership is involved in the appropriate Jewish bodies.
3. Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith (ADL). This is an organization located well within the keter malkhut. ADL was founded in 1913 by B’nai B’rith to fight anti-Semitism in the United States in the wake of the Leo Frank trial. Since then, it has grown to be independent of B’nai B’rith in all but name to become one of the three major Jewish human relations agencies in the United States.
In the aftermath of World War II, ADL expanded it foreign involvement in North American, Canada, Latin American, Europe, and Israel. It now has offices and, in some cases, active programs in all. Its principal tasks are fighting against ongoing manifestations of anti-semitism and monitoring hate groups, developing school curricula and teacher training programs that emphasize the ideals of civil rights and anti-extremist tendencies. ADL in Israel also deals with the Israel-U.S. relationships and coordinates activities in the fight against anti-Semitism with the Israeli government. It plays a major role on the Canadian Jewry scene and competes with WJC in some European countries.
ADL cooperates on an ad hoc basis with the other organizations that are part of the "Jewish lobby" in Washington. Collaboration with JAFI is almost non-existent. The ADL leadership had indicated that it is not in favor of any kind of all embracing umbrella organization.
4. Arzenu. Arzenu is the Zionist party of the world Reform movement. It primary purposes include advocacy of Zionism among Reform Jews and advocacy of equal status for Reform Judaism in Israel. It is an integral part of the World Zionist Organization. Since it is represented in the WZO as a Zionist party and an integral part of the WZO, it is within the network in every respect.
5. B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundations. This is one of the few B’nai B’rith functions that can be seen as part of the keter torah. Since the first B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundations were founded in 1923, they have spread throughout the United States, and after World War II, in both Americas, Europe, Australia, and Israel. It has become the principle campus organization serving Jewish university students. Given its position, it is unlikely to have formal relationships with the other organizations of world Jewish polity but to cooperate with them on an ad hoc programming basis. Local foundations often receive funding from local communities and may receive some from other communal institutions as well as international B’nai B’rith. They do have an important influence on the young people perhaps through the foundations while at the University. In that sense, it has an influence on the future leadership of the world Jewish polity.
6. B’nai B’rith International (BB). This is a major worldwide Jewish organization, just below the Big Five in importance, and now connected to them through the WZO. It is another instrumentality of the keter malkhut. It was founded in the United States in 1843 before the AIU although it was not extended internationally until shortly after the AIU was founded. By the turn of the century, it already had lodges throughout Europe and the Middle East. Rapidly declining in the United States, B’nai B’rith fraternal, educational, social, and humanitarian activities are the vehicle for certain segments of the Jewish leadership to advance in the Jewish world. Most of its functions are located in the lodge or district arenas. Its international leadership are primarily engaged in Jewish polities, so it is one of the organizations that has to be especially conciliated to bring it into a more comprehensive network if the Big Five were to go in that direction.
7. Central British Fund — World Jewish Relief. While its philanthropies extend beyond Britain, its activities, organizations are confined to the British Isles and it does not play a significant world role.
8. Chabad. Chabad, the official name of the Lubavitch Hassidic movement, has sought since World War II to become almost a parallel structure for world Jewry. Convinced as it is of the righteousness of its ultra-Orthodox cause and empowered by its members’ deep faith in the Lubavitcher Rebbe, they have managed to grow phenomenally, under his direction, and establish bases and outposts throughout the world including, at least for a while, capturing the Agudat Israel political party in Israel as their vehicle in the 1988 elections. Chabad generally relates to the rest of the Jewish world when it wants to ask for something, either funding for its institutions or legislation on who is a Jew. Otherwise it does not seek to be an active player in the world Jewish polity except on its own terms, which means as a separate entity without accepting any kind of overall discipline.
9. Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education (CAJE). An American product of the 1960s, CAJE has been very successful in providing a forum for Jewish educators for an exchange of ideas in Jewish education. After its success in the United States, it stimulated the development of a similar coalition in Europe and has held a convention in Israel. It has connected with the American institutions involved with the JAFI Joint Education Authority. It is a player on the world scene only within the narrow compass of its keter torah-related concerns. It works with JAFI and the WZO representatives in the United States.
10. Council for Jewish Federations (CJF). This preeminent body on the North American Jewish scene is classically located in the keter malkhut and is connected to the Big Five with close ties with JAFI, JDC, and the State of Israel. Although not formally among the Big Five because of its primary countrywide role as the major American Jewish power in the JAFI partnership, it is formally excluded from that circle by a technicality and actually is very influential within it, formally as part of the JAFI constituency and leadership group.
CJF describes its mission as building Jewish community life around the world and insuring Jewish continuity across the generations via the transmission of Jewish values. It serves as the collective instrument of the North American Jewish federations and strives to foster links between Jewish communities everywhere. It has myriad connections with the leading organizations of the world Jewish polity and provides a substantial portion of its leaders. Although it may be formally an equal among the other organizations, it will always be a "first among equals."
11. Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. It was established at the initiative of the World Jewish Congress as a single purpose organization within the keter malkhut, to gain reparations from the German authorities at the time when Germany was pursuing its return to the world stage as a democracy. It pursued its single purpose singularly well as far as the Federal Republic of Germany was concerned but had no success in Communist East Germany. Its major task completed, it remained in existence as a shadow of its former self until the fall of the iron curtain after 1989, when issues of reparations of the eastern bloc reemerged on the table. A creature of the World Jewish Congress, which maintains close ties with that organization, WJC stepped in to supersede it and managed to do so by the early 1990s. It is a classic example of a successful specialized single purpose authority established by the world Jewish leadership to respond to a need and "assigned" to one of the Big Five. It plays in the game only within its assigned sphere of activity and even there it has become very weak.
12. Consultative Council of Jewish Organizations (CCJO). A coordinating body of keter malkhut organizations, defined by the United Nations as a non-governmental organization with consultative status with the United Nations, UNESCO, ILO, UNICEF, and the Council of Europe, particularly in matters of human rights and other matters of an economic, social, cultural, and educational nature involving Jews. It was established as part of an attempt to prevent the Jews from speaking with too many different voices before those organizations. It has developed no standing and is not significant in the world Jewish polity.
13. Coordinating Board of Jewish Organizations (CBJO). This body links B’nai B’rith, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and the South African Board of Jewish Deputies for representation before the united Nations international bodies. It is the mirror image of CCJO serving a different set of organizations and has almost no serious independent existence.
14. Hadassah. Hadassah claims to be the largest women’s Zionist organization in the world. It is a cross between a Zionist political party and the dominant force in the Confederation of General Zionists, the "non-party bloc" in the WZO. It is the social-cultural philanthropic organization for Jewish women, particularly in the United States, but in recent years, also in Israel and Europe on a more modest scale. As a leading member of the WZO, its leaders play an active role among the Big Five organizations and their network. Still it is primarily an American Jewish membership organization. Established in 1912, it is the principal point of contact with Jewish life for many American Jewish women, and also a powerful actor in world Jewish politics. It is the sponsor of a number of worthwhile social and health projects in Israel, and the potent force in world Jewish organizational politics. It has special connections to Hadassah hospitals in Jerusalem, Youth Aliyah, and the Young Judean youth movement in the United States. It is squarely within the keter malkhut.
15. Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). While principally an American Jewish organization, HIAS is tied into the world Jewish network because it receives its funding through UJA, and is frequently involved in either competition or antagonistic cooperation with JAFI with regard to the resettlement of Jewish refugees in Israel or the United States. HIAS is strongly committed to "freedom of choice" and actively promotes the resettlement of Jewish refugees in the United States. It is also a specialized keter malkhut organization.
16. Herut-Hatzohar. Herut-Hatzohar is the worldwide expression of the Likud (Herut) party including the Zionist Revisionists. It functions as a member of the WZO and to mobilize support for the Likud throughout the world.
17. International Association of Jewish Vocational Services (IAJVS). This body is an expansion of the National Association of Jewish Vocational Services, established in the United States in 1939. It serves as the coordinator and clearinghouse for its affiliates. Its field of interest includes 29 Jewish vocational affiliates in North America and Israel, and assists other organizations around the world. In recent years it has been preoccupied with finding employment for Soviet Jewish refugees. While the International Association is very small, it claims that its affiliates serve nearly 50,000 annually. It is basically an American Jewish organization that can define itself to its area of interest. It is a keter malkhut authority.
18. International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC). This body was established at the initiative of the World Jewish Congress to coordinate Jewish representations to the Christian world, particularly the Vatican, and to eliminate a kind of free-for-all competition of Jewish organizations seeking access to the Catholic hierarchy. Indeed, it was stimulated by the desire of the Church leadership to have an address with whom they could speak rather than having to weigh and balance the claims of different organizations. Since its founding it has played that role under the informal leadership of the World Jewish Congress.
19. International Sephardic Education Foundation. Established in 1977 to provide funds for educating Israeli students, primarily of Sephardic background, to make use of their full potential in Israeli society by studying in their chosen fields in Israel and abroad, and is strictly an educational funding institution. It plays no role in political affairs.
20. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA). This policy studies institute has its origins in an academic consortium established in 1968 and achieved its present form in 1976. It is a policy studies institute serving Israel and the Jewish people and has specialized in doing policy studies for state and local government in Israel, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the World Zionist Organization, and others of the Big Five Jewish community, federations in North American and many other organizations in various parts of the Jewish world. It is a non-partisan body whose principal political concerns are to strengthen world Jewry and its various parts as a polity. It maintains ties to all of the Big Five organizations and many of the other ones. It is influential to the extent that it provides knowledge and understanding for those involved in the world Jewish polity.
21. Jewish Colonization Association (ICA). Founded in 1891 to provide assistance for European Jews seeking a better life, primarily through emigration. Baron Edmund Rothschild used it as a mechanism to provide support for early Jewish colonization in Eretz Israel. It and its sister organization, the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association (PICA), lie within the complex of Rothschild institutions devoted to support of Jewish settlement in Israel, but play no overt role other than a philanthropic one.
22. Jewish Educational Service of North America (JESNA). JESNA is a specialized umbrella body associated with the countrywide Council of Jewish Federations and located in adjacent quarters. JESNA is the successor to the American Association for Jewish Education and acts as the service agency of the local bureaus of Jewish education and to some extent also includes the countrywide organizations that claim to have a major interest in Jewish education. It provides technical services and studies educational needs and problems.
23. Jewish National Fund (JNF). The Jewish National Fund was established by the WZO in 1901 to undertake the task of purchasing and reclaiming land in Eretz Israel. It still plays that role, albeit in more sophisticated ways. The Jewish National Fund is an integral component of the WZO complex. It functions worldwide and with branches and local chapters in many countries. Its work remains within the sphere where it began but it shifted to a development emphasis after 1948 and extended that work in Judea, Samaria and Gaza after 1967. It developed a more explicitly environmentalist focus in the 1970s. The provision of park and recreation facilities are among its principal functions. Since its fundraising is separate, its budget is not part of the WZO package although its expenditures are basically controlled by Zionist party members who form its leadership. It is a national institution of the Jewish people.
24. Keren HaYesod — United Israel Appeal (KH). As a constituent institution of JAFI, KH is very close to the Big Five. It is in the anomalous position of being a creature of the WZO, yet as an independent organization its leaders are drawn from separate country-wide KH organizations throughout the world. It is a very influential player in the world Jewish polity and especially within the Jewish Agency. Curiously enough, it probably has more influence within JAFI than within its parent WZO which has a different set of organizing principals. Occupants of its key positions do represent its member political parties, while the voluntary KH leadership stays out of the party framework in its organization and strives to distance itself from it. KH was established in 1920 to raise funds for the development of a Jewish national home in Eretz Israel. Today it conducts campaigns in 47 countries with over two million Jews. The United Palestine Appeal, later the United Israel Appeal, took over KH functions in the United States in 1925. Since then, KH has served everywhere else in the Jewish world, except in the USA. The overwhelming involvement of KH is in fundraising and in developing new leadership to serve that end. It is located in the keter malkhut.
25. Maccabi World Union. The Maccabi World Union is "non-political and non-partisan youth/sports movement" founded in 1921. Its secondary purpose is Zionist education, especially as a member of the WZO. It has country-wide subsidiaries throughout the world. Its primary function is to recruit and prepare athletes for the Quadrennial Maccabiah Games held in Israel. Its role on the world scene beyond that is essentially through WZO. Politically, it is in the General Zionist or Liberal sphere. It is located in the keter malkhut.
26. Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture. The Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture was established in 1965 with funds remaining from the reparations given the Jewish people by the Federal Republic of Germany. Its purpose was and is to restore the Jewish culture destroyed in the Holocaust and to encourage the spread of Jewish culture beyond that. A foundation, it is composed of 54 member organizations representing all streams and viewpoints along the Jewish spectrum, and even claims to have evolved into a kind of cultural parliament of the Jewish people. The original gift of ten million dollars produces its funding but is too small to allow it to expend sufficient funds to play the role it was intended to play.
For many years it was the principal source of funding for restoring Jewish cultural monuments in Europe, publishing Jewish works and training Jewish scholars, but today it has been eclipsed by many privately endowed foundations established by wealthy Jews in the intervening years with up to 30 times as much endowment. Nevertheless, the foundation has made an important contribution to the Jewish scene. It is the closest thing the world Jewish polity has to a cultural authority. The Memorial Foundation itself generally sticks to its educational and cultural purposes.
27. Mercaz. Merkaz is the Zionist arm of the Conservative/Masorti movement and represents Conservative Judaism within the World Zionist Organization. Its primary strength comes from the United States, although it also has representatives from other parts of the world where Masorati Judaism has a presence. It plays the role of any political party within the WZO, although somewhat reluctantly. Because of its predominantly religious orientation, its leaders feel somewhat uncomfortable with out and out party political activity. It seeks support for eligible Masorti institutions in Israel and educational activities in Israel and the diaspora.
28. Simon Wiesenthal Center. Founded in 1977 to pursue research and education in connection with the Holocaust, the Wiesenthal Center, after a phenomenal mail order fundraising record, has become a significant actor on the world Jewish scene by virtue of its ability to capture headlines and get itself recognized by the media as an authoritative spokesman on Holocaust matters and to mobilize funds from a wide spectrum of Jews, particularly in North America, otherwise little connected with the more established institutions of the world Jewish polity. It does not seek to work with the rest of the world Jewish polity, but rather to pursue its own course for its own gain. It must be reckoned with in some way but is not a team player, nor does it seek to be.
29. United Israel Appeal. The official representative body for American Jewry in the JAFI partnership, it is the channel through which most American Jewish representation to JAFI is filtered. UIA relies upon Jewish community federations as the source of most of that representation. It serves as the conduit for UJA funds to JAFI. It is the overseeing body for those funds and U.S. government grants to JAFI. It is also the largest formal owner of property in Israel after the Israeli government. Because of UIA’s critical role in overseeing JAFI funds and in connecting the communities of American Jewry with JAFI, it is a major player in the world Jewish polity.
30. United Jewish Appeal. Like the KH, it is essentially a fundraising organization that also undertakes leadership development and educational activities designed to support its primary mission. It is confined to fundraising in the United States for the United Israel Appeal, Joint Distribution Committee and the New York Association for New Americans (NYANA). Its fundraising is done through the community federations in the United States. Nevertheless, its influence is substantial by virtue of the amount of money it and the federations raise which provides approximately eighty percent of the JAFI budget. It is well represented in the UIA representation in JAFI. Hence, it is very much part of the JAFI component of the partnership.
31. Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO). WIZO was founded in 1920 and operates in Israel and the rest of the world. It did not have a presence in the United States until Hadassah began establishing chapters outside of North America, at which time WIZO began to build a new presence in the United States which is still very small, but exists. WIZO operates a network of educational, social and philanthropic institutions in Israel and chapters throughout the world designed to promote Jewish ties for women and to raise funds for its Israel projects. WIZO is a member of the World Zionist Organization and its representative bodies, where it functions primarily to protect its perceived organizational interests.
32. World Conference of Jewish Communal Service. This is the professional association of those employed in serving Jewish communities throughout the world. Its offices are located in Israel but unquestionably the initiative for its establishment came from the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America. It has slowly grown to embrace its counterparts in Israel and other diaspora communities as well. Its principal activity is a quadrennial world congress. Should the worldwide Jewish civil service develop, this may become a body of greater significant in the future. Even now it is a main channel of communication and a rallying point for those who have committed themselves professionally to Jewish communal service throughout the world.
33. World Conference of Synagogues. This organization was established as an apolitical vehicle for modern Orthodox Jews to participate in the WZO. At present, it is in the process of reorganization and is designed to serve as a counterpart to the World Union for Progressive Judaism and the World Council of Synagogues. As such, it is represented in the world Zionist institutions.
34. World Council of Synagogues. This is the world organization of Conservative and Masorti congregations, the formal expression of world Masorti Judaism in Israel. Actually it is more a creature of the United Synagogue of America, by far the most powerful congregational body in the Conservative movement, but in recent years it has been increasing its world reach and representation.
35. World Labor Zionist Movement. The World Labor Zionist Movement is the worldwide organization of the Israel Labor Party and its party identified supports. Its principal functions in the world Jewish polity are within the WZO, while its branches in the countries around the world promote identification with the Labor Party in Israel and its programs. The World Labor Zionist Movement operates in 18 countries.
36. World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC). WOJAC was founded in 1975 to present the case of the Jews of Arab countries that came to Israel after 1948 and are seeking restitution for properties left behind. It was designed principally to balance Arab refugee claims that might be raised at the time of the peace negotiations. Initially, it was not looked on with particular favor by the Israeli government, which, for Zionist reasons has argued that Jews coming to Israel are never to be considered refugees. It pursues its substantive purpose and does not get involved with the politics of world Jewry beyond that.
37. World ORT Union (ORT). ORT was established in Czarist Russia over 100 years ago to help prepare the Jews of the Russian Empire for emancipation by giving them appropriate vocational training. Since then it has spread throughout the Jewish world and has been so successful in its vocational training efforts that it has been called upon by international organizations to undertake the vocational training of refugees in general. While it raises money throughout the Jewish world, it sticks to its vocational education function. In that capacity, it cooperates with JAFI, Youth Aliyah, the Israeli government and the JDC. The latter is the most intensive and long-lasting partner of ORT, providing substantial amounts of funding for ORT since the 1920s. In turn, Ort works to establish vocational training centers in JDC-assisted communities.
38. World Sephardi Federation (WSF). Founded in the 1920s, the WSF was reorganized after World War II, and again in the later 1960s. Its primary function is to unify Sephardim throughout the word in an effort to perpetuate Sephardic culture and to secure a Sephardic voice in the Counsels of World Jewry to defend Sephardi interests. While it has had substantial success as an organization in spreading to wherever there are Sephardic Jews and in securing a Sephardic voice in Jewish communities throughout the world and in WZO and JAFI, it has not taken on many other activities of its own. Rather, since it has been represented in the World Zionist Organization, it has secured the establishment of the Department for Sephardic communities in the WZO. It has succeeded in raising the Sephardic issue on the Jewish agenda.
39. World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS). Founded after World War II, the World Union of Jewish Students attempts to bring together Jewish students throughout the world through country-wide and some regional student unions that are not party political. The student-run organization tries to become involved in world Jewish affairs through its leadership. It gives the students a voice. It also operates the Areivim program which sends student volunteers to small Jewish communities around the world with JAFI funding. It is a member of the WZO and in a relationship with antagonistic cooperation with it, the WZO seeking to limit its influence and its leaders seeking a greater voice.
40. World Union of Jewish Studies. The World Union of Jewish Studies was established in 1947 at the time of the First World Congress of Jewish Studies. It is an association of all university teachers of Jewish studies throughout the world. Its central activities are to hold a quadrennial congress in Jerusalem, to maintain a comprehensive mailing list of Jewish studies university lectures, and to issue a bulletin reporting on activities in Jewish studies. It is represented in the Memorial Foundation and receives funding from it, from the Israeli government, and various foundations. It is not active in world Jewish affairs, but sticks to its substantive agenda.
41. World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ). The World Union for Progressive Judaism is the worldwide umbrella organization for Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism. Its primary interests are religious, not political except in so far as it seeks to protect Reform Judaism in Israel. It participates in the world Jewish polity for other purposes primarily through its Israel-based leadership. It is a member of the WZO. It is funded by JAFI for various Israeli-oriented educational programs. Reform movements in twenty countries are represented in the WUPJ.
Just about every one of the foregoing organizations is in some way linked to the Big Five, either as constituents of the structure comprising one or another of the Big Five or as beneficiaries of funding from one or more of them. Thus, the world Jewish polity may only be a network, but it is a network that has tangible and concrete ties holding it together.
Published on Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs’ website