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Click here to access all the Federations' 990 tax forms (Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax), broken down by state and city.
However much they benefit the local community, and Israel, at least some take enviable care of their own, including through salaries several times higher than the norm at nonprofit organizations, and through loans under terms they refuse to disclose.
Many of the federations also quietly support the settlement movement in Israel, saying when pressed that they exist to help Jews wherever they may live.
A mammoth industry
Let's start with the financing of JFNA itself. The JFNA mission statement states that collectively the federations are “among the top 10 charities" in the continent in “caregiving, aging, philanthropy, disability, foreign policy, homeland security and health care.” Headquartered in Manhattan, across the street from Wall Street’s iconic Charging Bull statue, JFNA reported having $400 million in assets in 2015. According to the JFNA's own website, the combined federations and communities’ assets reach $16 billion, and it raises approximately $900 million a year.
This is a big portion of total Jewish philanthropic activity in the United States, which The Forward estimated at $26 billion in 2014.
Most of the federations' support goes to local Jewish causes, but each also donates to Israel, via the JFNA or directly. The percentage of the money they raise that they donate to Israel varies, but typically amounts to at least 10 percent of the donations collected in a given year.
About 75 percent of the JFNA funds sent to Israel arrive there via a different entity, called the United Israel Appeal.
The Jewish Agency is the operating agent of the UIA on the ground in Israel. According to the latest records available, in 2014 UIA sent $213 million to Israel, down from $231 million the year before. The rest of the JFNA money that ends up in Israel arrives mainly via the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
The main findings
Tax records show that in the four years 2012 to 2015, donations, expenditure and total assets of all the federations combined all increased year by year. Spending on salaries increased in nominal terms but remained quite steady in terms of percent of revenues: about a fifth of total donations.
While support for Israel is clear and loudly proclaimed, support for the settlers and for organizations operating beyond the Green Line is a sensitive issue for the Federations, on which they prefer to remain silent. JFNA guidelines are vague and hard information about the extent of support is meager. Nonetheless, Haaretz has learned that Federation funds have been supporting some of the most hard-line settlers, for example in Hebron and Silwan, East Jerusalem, and organizations aspiring to change the status quo on the Temple Mount. Over the four years from 2012 to 2015, individual federations directly donated about $6 million beyond the Green Line. Although figures for 2015 are partial, it seems to have been a banner year for settlers in the West Bank, who got more than $1.6 million.
For comparison, the federations spent about the same amount, specifically $6.6 million from 2012 to 2015, lobbying to promote Jewish goals.