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The Jewish Agency for Israel (Hebrew: הסוכנות היהודית לארץ ישראל, HaSochnut HaYehudit L'Eretz Yisra'el), also known as the Sochnut or JAFI, served as the pre-state Jewish government before the establishment of Israel and later became the organization in charge of immigration and absorption of Jews from the Diaspora.


The Jewish Agency for Palestine

The Jewish Agency for Palestine took over from the Zionist Commission in 1923 to represent and administer the Jewish community during the period of the British Mandate of Palestine, which lasted between 1921 and 1948. It received official recognition in 1922. During the Mandate Period, the Jewish Agency for Palestine was a quasi-governmental organization that served the administrative needs of the Jewish community. Its leadership was elected by Jews from all over the world by proportional representation.

The Jewish Agency was charged with facilitating Jewish immigration to Palestine, land purchase and planning the general policies of the Zionist leadership. It ran schools and hospitals, and formed the Haganah, which became the Israel Defense Force after Israeli independence. The British authorities offered to create a similar Arab Agency but this offer was rejected by Arab leaders.

The Jewish Agency was raided by British Troops in 1946 under Operation Agatha in retaliation for a number of attacks against British forces, however the Haganah did not attack British forces directly. These were largely carried out by Etzel, better known as the Irgun. The Jerusalem headquarters of the Jewish Agency was bombed by agents of the Grand Mufti Haj Mohammed Amin al-Husseini in early 1948, with great loss of life. During the subsequent siege, the Agency moved its headquarters to Tel Aviv.

On May 14, 1948, the Jewish Agency for Palestine, under its leader David Ben Gurion, became the Provisional government of Israel.

American Section

On September 14, 1943 the American Section of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Inc. registered as the Jewish Agency's foreign agent in New York. In 1962 and 1963 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee investigated and received sworn testimony from American Section - Jewish Agency Inc. regarding its status and source of funding. The American Section of the Jewish Agency for Israel shut down after the US Department of Justice forced it to file its 1953 Covenant Agreement with the Israeli government, revealing its quasi governmental powers and government funding.

Contemporary organization

Following the establishment of the State of Israelmarker in 1948, the government created a new Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) to facilitate economic development and the absorption of immigrants.

Since 1948, the Jewish Agency for Israel has been responsible for bringing 3 million immigrants to Israel. New immigrants can stay in one of 32 absorption centers across Israel. There they receive vocational training and go through an acculturation process. Most of the olim, or new immigrants, in absorptions centers are from Ethiopiamarker. One of the most significant projects to bring Ethiopians to Israel was through Operation Solomon. Since there are fewer Jewish communities at-risk in the diaspora, the Jewish Agency is focusing on aliyah of choice. Staff are working closely with youth and religious movements to encourage immigration to Israel. The organization was also instrumental in bringing over 1 million Jews from the former Soviet Union to Israel.

Though the emphasis of the Jewish Agency's work has been on aliyah, or immigration to Israel, in the past decade the Jewish Agency has made a significant impact in two other strategic areas: Jewish-Zionist Education and Partnerships in Israel.

The Jewish Agency has a continuum of programming to bring Israel to local worldwide Jewish communities. To some degree this is done through shlichim, or emissaries. Shlichim are Israeli educators who choose to spend an extended period of time abroad to bring Israel to the community. Other programs that are instrumental in instilling Israel in youth is birthright Israel, a short-term Israel experience. The Jewish Agency is the largest organizational partners in this initiative. Most recently, MASA Israel Journey was created as a follow up program to birthright Israel. MASA is in partnership with the Israeli government and provides stipends to young people between the ages of 18-30 who would like to go on a long-term Israel experience. This project was envisioned by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Israel department programs focus on strengthening Israel's periphery, namely the Galilee region in the north and the Negevmarker in the South. The emergence of the high tech industry in Israel has created a significant socio-economic disparity between the center of country and the outer regions. Thus, the Jewish Agency has programs to lessen the gap. For instance, Youth Futures, is a holistic approach to dealing with at-risk youth in Israel. A child is connected to a trustee who is responsible for connecting the child to resources and community services. Another flagship program is Net@, a program that is supported by Cisco Systems. Program participants are high performers who are given the opportunity to rise above their families' socio-economic background by getting the Cisco International Certification. The program is in addition to the participants' high school course load and increases their English comprehension skills.

The Jewish Agency for Israel's headquarters is located in Jerusalem, but there are also satellite sites worldwide. The Jewish Agency for Israel North America, which is currently headed by Maxyne Finkelstein, is the organization's main fundraising arm in North America, and is a registered 501(c)(3).


On May 8, 2008, at the 60th Independence Day celebration, the Jewish Agency for Israel was awarded the Israel Prize for its Israel Prize for lifetime achievement & special contribution to society and the State of Israel.


Natan Sharansky and Richard Pearlstone at the June 25, 2009 Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting.
Natan Sharansky is currently the chairman of the executive. He was elected by on June 25, 2009 Jewish Agency. The position was previously held by Zeev Bielski who left to become a member of Knesset with the Kadima party following the 2009 Israeli election. Before that Sallai Meridor, former Israeli ambassador to the United States, held the position.

Since June 2007, Richard Pearlstone has been the Chair of the Jewish Agency BOG, following Carole Solomon's leadershipMoshe Vigdor serves in the capacity of the organization's director general.

The Board of Governors determines the policy of the Jewish Agency for Israel and manages, supervises, controls and directs its operations and activities. All bodies (other than the Assembly), officers and officials of the Jewish Agency act within the policies set by the Assembly and Board of Governors and are accountable to the Board of Governors. Between meetings of the Assembly, the Board of Governors has full power to act for the Agency and may fix policy, provided that its' acts and decisions are not inconsistent with previous decisions or instructions of the Assembly.

The Board of Governors has up to 120 members divided as follows:
  1. 50% World Zionist Organization
  2. 30% United Israel Appeal, Inc. (UIA) and United Jewish Communities (UJC)
  3. 20% Keren Hayesod

The Board of Governors meets three times a year at the Jewish Agency headquarters located in Jerusalem.

Funding sources

The Jewish Agency is supported by:
  1. The Government of Israel.
  2. Founding constituent partners: Keren Hayesod, United Jewish Communities and Jewish federations throughout the world
  3. Primary funders: Keren Hayesod, United Jewish Communities and major Jewish federations in North America, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews

The Jewish Agency is also supported by donor contributions from throughout the world including Israel, where a growing number of philanthropists have joined through the Spirit of Israel Campaign to support the organizations projects and sit on the Board of Governors.

Due to the volatile U.S. dollar, the global economic crisis, and the Madoff scandal, the Jewish Agency for Israel has been forced to make significant cuts to its budget. The Board of Governors voted to cut $45 million in November 2008 and an additional $26 million at the February 2009 meeting.

Responding in crisis

The Jewish Agency’s well-developed infrastructure has allowed it to respond in crisis, quickly and with agility.

One salient example is its response during the 2006 Lebanon War. The Jewish Agency (through $302 million from UJC and Federation partners) responded with the following:
  • Moving 50,000 children from the north to 50 residential camps, established in response to the emergency situation
  • 12,000 children went to day JAFI-equipped summer camps held in community centers
  • 2100 new immigrants were moved to safety after the Katushas hit a number of absorption centers.
  • 2700 bomb shelter kits were distributed

Moreover, the Jewish Agency has taken on a significant role in rebuilding the entire northern region. It established the micro-business loan fund to help boost the local economy. In addition, the Israel Discount Bank has partnered with the Jewish Agency by providing matching funds for capital projects there.

Another example, is the Jewish Agency's role in supporting Sderotmarker and the surrounding area, which has been hit hard with Kassam missiles from Gaza. Here are some key examples:
  • More than 12,000 children enjoyed respite activities in the center and north of the country
  • 300 educators were trained to work with children living through the trauma
  • Supplemental educational activities were offered to more than 2,000 students
  • The S.O.S. Emergency Fund for Victims of Terror helped more than 200 people whose lives have been directly effected by the Kassam attacks
  • 100 bomb shelters are being renovated in the region
  • 500 students are studying in the Sapir Regional College (near Sderot) with scholarships to ensure their academic continuity and the college’s continued operation

Jewish People Policy Planning Institute

A think tank founded recently by The Jewish Agency. The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute was established in 2002 by the Jewish Agency for Israel to be an independent professional policy planning think tank entrusted with the mission of promoting the identity, culture, prosperity, and continuity of the Jewish People. Every year, leaders of the Jewish world including such distinguished personalities as Dennis Ross, Shimon Peres, Natan Sharansky, Malcolm Hoenlein, Tzipi Livni, participate in JPPPI’s conferences and meetings that forecast the Jewish condition. The Institute conducts meetings, publishes reports and position papers, and produces contingency plans that help shape the future course of the global Jewish community.


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