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.
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 Ethiopia. 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 Negev 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.
For a complete list of the Jewish Agency's flagship programs click here.
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 lifetime contribution to the State of Israel and society.
Moshe Vigdor serves in the capacity of the orgnanization's director general(click here for his complete bio).
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 BOG has up to 120 members and is comprised of the following:
The BOG meets three times a year at the Jewish Agency headquarters located in Jerusalem.
The Jewish Agency is also supported by donor contributions from throughout the world including Israel, where a growing number of philanthropists have joined to support the organizations projects and sit on the Board of Governors.
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:
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 Sderot and the surrounding area, which has been hit hard with Kassam missiles from Gaza. Here are some key examples: