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The Jewish Agency’s ‘Million Dollar Man’

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 One of the Jewish Agency’s MVPs, Dr. Misha Galperin’s total compensation in 2010 amounted to nearly three-quarters of a million dollars, according to a report by Haaretz.As JAFI Faces Budget Cuts, Fundraiser in New York Still Draws Hefty Paycheck
“Hu ha, mi ze ba, Rosh Hamemshala haba!” (“Look who is coming, the next prime minister!”) – is the official chant that supporters break out with, at rallies or on election night in Israel. While the words express the optimism or satisfaction of the process, which ends with the announcement of Israel’s next prime minister, they also reflect the lofty aspirations of so many individuals to be granted with the honor and privilege of holding the highest elected office in the Jewish state.

Many have tried but have not succeeded. There are others, however, working on behalf of the Israeli public, whose work grants them a great deal of personal prestige, and financial compensation dwarfing that of Israel’s Prime Minister. 

For over 80 years, the Jewish Agency has served as the link between the Jewish people and Israel, and its primary focus and major activities are as described on their website, and include the forging of strong connections to Israel through a sequence of Israel experiences for teens and young adults – from Birthright’s short visit to Israel, to Masa’s live‐and‐learn experience from five months to a year. The Agency also plays a role in facilitating aliyah for those who choose to make Israel their home, engaging young Jews from Israel and around the world in social activism, reconnecting Jews from the former Soviet Union  and rescuing Jews from countries of distress and re‐settling them in Israel.

With the establishment of the state of Israel in May 1948, the Jewish Agency relinquished many of its functions to the new government, but retained responsibility for immigration, land settlement, youth work, and relations with world Jewry. This was confirmed by the World Zionist Organization-Jewish Agency (Status) Law adopted by the Knesset on November 24, 1952. On July 26, 1954 a formal covenant was signed between the government and the World Zionist Organization-Jewish Agency, recognizing the latter as the representative of world Jewry with regard to the above functions.

Based on the high profile and the various responsibilities it holds, the unofficial arrangement was that the head of the Jewish Agency would make as much the prime minister of Israel. But according to a report by Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz, in the annual financial report for 2010 that the agency filed with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Nathan Sharansky’s pay in 2010 totaled $214,000 – 30 percent more than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the man who appointed him and made $164,000 before taxes in 2010.

But Sharansky is not the agency’s highest earner (who in fact in was only number four on the list for 2010); that distinction goes to the CEO and president of Jewish Agency International Development (JAID), the agency’s chief fundraiser, Dr. Misha Galperin who is based in New York. JAFI paid Dr. Galperin $478,000 in 2010, according to the IRS report. This isn’t his real salary though, as Galperin began working for the agency only in June 2010 – $478,000 was his pay for only seven months. Galperin’s annual remuneration, including expenses and benefits, is nearly three-quarters of a million dollars.

The base for Galperin’s JAFI pay is half a million dollars, but to that were added the cost of renting an $11,000-a-month, 2,880-square foot townhouse in Brooklyn’s upscale Cobble Hill neighborhood, tuition for his two children at the Hannah Senesh private day school, a car and his pension fund.

Sources close to the negotiations that took place in early 2010 over Galperin’s pay package explained to Haaretz that Sharansky had agreed with Galperin that he would not lose out financially due to his move from Washington to JAFI’s North American headquarters in New York. That hardly explains how he almost doubled the salary of about $400,000 he was due to make that year as head of the Washington federation.

To put things in perspective, the Jewish agency operates in close to 80 countries on five continents through a network of over 450 emissaries, including hundreds of formal and informal educators. And the core budget in 2010 was $260.25M, in which almost a million dollars goes to pay for one executive at a single New York based branch.

Galperin’s personal benefits are not his only cost to the Jewish Agency. Shortly after he started work, JAFI set up Jewish Agency International Development (JAID), with Galperin as its president and CEO. JAID, which was to become the agency’s main fundraising channel, recruited dozens of new employees who work alongside the existing staff of JAFI North America; among them two new vice-presidents, Arthur Sandman and Nirit French, who make around $250,000 each.

“JAID is a monstrous and wasteful structure built by Galperin,” says a veteran agency employee, “while all around the organization is cutting back and people are getting fired.”

In an op-ed published in the Forward on July 5 2011, Misha Galperin makes the case for a funded peoplehood agenda, which would put him in charge of managing the funds.  By making a very persuasive point – “It’s a lot easier to get someone to pay for an ambulance than to pay for salary raises for medics. It’s a lot easier to get people to pay for a room in a building than to cover the cost of doing business. But what happens if we ignore medic salaries or the cost of rent and utilities? These expenses do not go away.”

According to Haaretz research, in 2010, contributions and grants to JAFI were down nine percent from the previous year, at $316 million. Figures for 2011 are reported to be even worse.

In 2009, the operating budget was cut by $45 million, and in 2011 a further $20 million were cut. In the process, 180 employees were fired and 50 workers were forced giving up a day of paid vacation and to take unpaid leave in August.

The Jewish Voice reached out to the Jewish Agency in New York for an explanation, but has not, as of this writing, received a response.

In a troubled economy, where a global recession has resulted in a dramatic decline of donations by well-known philanthropists from around the world, observers are asking themselves what these new revelations will mean for the future of the Jewish Agency, and how they do business.

[Editor’s note: While we at the Jewish Voice respect the important work that the Jewish Agency does on behalf of Israel and Jewish communities around the world, we feel that it is also important that our readers be made aware of where their tzedakah money is going, and we hope  to encourage a culture of accountability in our public institutions.]

Follow Jacob Kornbluh on Twitter, at Twitter.com/jacobkornbluh

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