Just as many CEOs of major corporations manage to increase their compensation despite miserable profits and stock performance, so it is with the leaders of the largest and most influential American Jewish organizations. The Forward, earlier this month, reported the compensation of many of the most prominent among them. Here are some of them (latest salary information is for 2010 unless otherwise noted and in a few cases I have updated information to include full compensation including benefits, if the Forward didn’t):
Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman
American Jewish Committee’s David Harris
Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Marvin Hier
Aipac’s Howard Kohr
Republican Jewish Coalition’s Matt Brooks
Conference of Presidents’ Malcolm Hoenlein
Jewish National Fund
Zionist Organization of America’s Mort Klein
The Israel Project’s Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi
Most of the salaries listed above are borderline obscene. They place their recipients squarely among the Jewish 1% and distance themselves from the rest of us. This is yet another reason most of the organizations listed above have long passed their Jewish “sell-by” date.
One measure of this (though not the sole one by any means) is their fundraising. The two of the three highest paid executives on my list, Harris and Foxman, run organizations whose fundraising has dropped dramatically over the past several years. The ADL’s has declined by over 30% between 2006-2010. AJC’s funding levels dropped by a similar amount in the same period. Their executives’ salaries, of course, have not. While we shouldn’t make the mistake of judging a non-profit’s ongoing relevance solely by it’s fundraising prowess, it is one indication of how much excitement there is for the group’s mission among donors and other funders.
I would maintain that these groups have lost their way and their relevance to all but the oldest members of the community. While times have changed, they have not. They continue to attempt to be all things to all Jews, which actually means being nothing to anyone but the alter-kockers.
I also don’t buy the explanation/excuse offered by the groups themselves for the declines registered. They say it’s because donors want more control over their donations and no longer are willing to give unrestricted gifts. The more likely reason is that as Jews become more integrated into American life, with attendant higher income and social status, they are sought after as donors and directors to local, regional and national non-profits outside the Jewish sphere. Jews now give extensively to the colleges and universities they attended, museums, symphonies, operas, political parties, social justice and environmental groups than they ever did in the past. This is money that in previous generations would’ve gone directly to Jewish causes. Now, it’s gone and there is very little money from the younger generation to replace it. All this means that the general interest Jewish groups are in the midst of an inexorable decline. I’d predict that even the single-interest pro-Israel groups mentioned below will be effected by this decline eventually.
All of which means that as these groups lose funding, their missions will also suffer. The good deeds and projects that benefited the Jewish community, plus the positive values they represented (long ago, though less so now) will gradually disappear. I don’t know what, if anything, will take their place. All this could lead to an inexorable decline in the quality of American Jewish life.
The groups that have thrived in this environment have been the single issue, largely pro-Israel ones like Aipac (+30% over past five years), The Israel Project (+30% from 2008-2010), Stand With Us (+40% between 2007-2010), and J Street (its funding increased by 300% from 2007-2008, the J Street Education Fund increased 400% from 2009-2010, and the J Street PAC increased by 200% from 2008 to 2010). These statistics are an expression of the increasing fragmentation of the Jewish community and its realignment largely around a single issue: Israel. There seems little that holds much of the organized community together except the state formally-known as the Homeland of the Jewish People.
Partially, this reflects a certain impoverishment in Jewish identity. Partially, it represents a major error made by American Jews and their leaders of putting all their eggs in Israel’s basket. When Israel crushes these eggs, then what is left for Jews to believe in?
We need an identity that includes Israel, but is not limited to it. We need to jettison the single issue Jewish identity hawked by fat cat ideologues like Michael Steinhardt and Sheldon Adelson. Their Jewishness is a dead-end. Those who are fooled into following these Pied Pipers will discover in the long run that they’ve made a fool’s bargain. They may have fat coffers, but they will stand for nothing, or at least nothing that will nurture the next generation and offer it something substantial and value-based as sustenance.