August 29, 2002
Withholding Our Funds From Territories
Like so many of us across the United States, I have been giving to the annual campaign of the United Jewish Communities (UJC). Through our annual gifts to our local Jewish Federation, a significant portion of our money goes to the UJC, which then distributes funds in Israel for social services and throughout the world for assistance programs.
This spring -- with Israel deeply mired in a war unlike any other conflict in its history -- the UJC embarked upon an emergency campaign to assist the economically beleaguered country.
The $311 million campaign was successful beyond expectations. My Atlanta Jewish community's response best represented the kind of response the emergency campaign generated. We had a $6 million quota -- and we ended up raising some $10.5 million -- from a Jewish community numbering 86,000.
It came as a great surprise to me, and many others, that with the campaign near completion, the UJC changed its 36-year policy of not distributing funds in the disputed territories taken in the 1967 Six-Day War.
This policy of not distributing funds beyond the Green Line (the West Bank and Gaza, Judea and Samaria, Greater Israel, Occupied Territory -- take your pick) was based on two premises.
The first concern was possible tax consequences.
There has been a notion that the nonprofit tax status of the United Jewish Appeal (UJC in its first incarnation) could be jeopardized by distributing funds into this part of disputed Israel.
Of equal concern was the idea of creating an uneasy truce between the left and right wings of the American Jewish community.
The right always claimed, with some validity, that Jews should be assisted anywhere in the world. The left asserted, with equal authority, that we should not play a role in forming Israeli policy with regard to these territories. If the Israeli government wanted to assist settlers, said the left, it could easily do so with the fungible dollars we were creating through our giving.
Indeed, the Israeli government has been extremely generous to the settlers in the territories. For example, a young couple could look at an apartment in the Modiin area, between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and choke on the mortgage. Or they could move into a comparable apartment, a mere 20 minutes into the territories, for a substantial discount -- courtesy of the Israeli government.
This compromise, which was arrived at 36 years ago, has been an important feature of the annual campaign, because it created avenues for Jewish unity and minimized division. Now, with this sudden -- and publicly unannounced -- change of policy, all bets in the unity department are off.
What makes the UJC decision even more puzzling is that the Reform movement had just decided to roll its own Israel emergency effort into the UJC's campaign.
Imagine getting the support of such a key organization and not having the courtesy to inform its leaders of such a momentous change. The absence of such notification can only lead to the conclusion that there are leaders within the UJC who knew this decision would be controversial and decided to ask for forgiveness instead of permission.
Any Israeli public opinion poll taken these days shows a solid majority acknowledging that a large number of settlements will need to be abandoned in any peace deal with the Palestinians.
Any demographic survey will also show that any dreams of holding onto the West Bank and Gaza through territorial annexation will lead to an apartheid Jewish state within 10 to 20 short years. If this is the future political map, why would the UJC invest our dollars in a black hole?
So the UJC, the primary fundraising body in the United States, breaks with a 36-year-old policy that unified American Jewry without telling one of its largest constituent groups.
I encourage local Jewish Federations' boards of trustees to engage the leadership of the UJC on this most important matter and to withhold our funds from the emergency campaign until this inappropriate decision is changed.Steve Berman serves on the boards of New Atlanta Jewish High School and the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce. He is a columnist for the Atlanta Jewish Times, where this column originally appeared.