Rabbis for Human Rights in North America, which was founded a decade ago primarily to raise funds and awareness for the Israeli group of the same name, is severing its ties with the Israeli organization after years of effort by both organizations to accommodate the North American arm’s expanded domestic agenda.
Starting Jan. 15, the North American group will be known as T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and will no longer support Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel financially.
Every year, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America had given about a quarter of the funds it raised to the Israeli group; most recently, that grant totaled $250,000 of the North American arm’s $900,000 annual budget. Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel’s budget is about $1 million.
Although the groups always each had their own boards, the almost-identical names were the cause of much confusion among the two groups’ supporters, said Jill Jacobs, the executive director of the North American organization.
“Some donors wanted to support the Israeli organization; some wanted to support us,” she said. “Now they will do their own fundraising in the U.S., and we will do our own fundraising, and we will collaborate on programs and advocacy efforts.”
The North American group began to take on its own domestic program very soon after it was founded, said Rabbi Sid Schwarz, the board member who chaired the committee that oversaw the two group’s separation. Today, it works on three domestic issues – human trafficking, torture and indefinite detention and prejudice against Muslims – and three Israeli issues: settlement expansion, Bedouin rights and asylum. Its Israeli agenda has also grown, Rabbi Jacobs said.
“We expect to be as active on Israel issues as before,” Rabbi Schwarz said.
But over the years, the growth of the North American organization’s work on non-Israeli issues created some tension between the two groups that carried costs in time and resources to manage, Rabbi Schwarz said.
“We’ve come into conflict with our partners in Israel, so a lot of time was spent trying to smooth that over, and at a certain point you have to wonder if it would be better for the cause if we separated,” he said. “The secret for success for organizations is to be hyper-focused on your mission. Some of the stuff we got involved in, they found to be besides the point. Not unimportant but not advancing their mission.”
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