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Special Interview Almogi, Not Fighting, Yet

“I wish every politician that his critics should demand that he remain at his post and not leave it.” Yosef Almogi, heavy set, oraggy-faced, radiating power and good cheer, dismisses with this piece of wisdom the storm of press criticism that has arisen here at the reports that he will leave the Haifa Mayoralty to seek the chairmanship of the Jewish Agency. As to the reports themselves, Almogi has an insistent “no comment.”

His thoughts on the office of Agency chairman, expressed to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a special interview, are all preceded by the qualification: “If I am offered the chairmanship, and if I accept the nomination…” So far, he says, there has been no formal offer, and he himself is certainly not “campaigning” at this stage.

Much of the criticism has been from Haifa voters, expressed through Haifa newsmen, who object to what they see as their Mayor’s reneging on his election pledge to “serve out at least one term.” Almogi notes that he has already served half a term. He can hardly be accused, he says, of winning the Mayoralty by tricking the voters with the intention of abandoning the office, since Pinhas Sapir’s death was unexpected and came as a shock to everyone.

The point is significant. Almogi ruled himself out, after the death of Louis Pinous and before Sapir’s election as Agency chairman precisely because he did not want to appear to have tricked the electorate. This indeed, he recalls, was one of the reasons why he turned down requests from some Labor quarters in January, 1974 that he assume the Premiership. He also felt, he adds, that be was not suitable for that task.

Now, however, with half of his term faithfully completed, he feels that a move to a “vitally important Jewish leadership position” while “not entirely above criticism,” is nevertheless defensible.

WZO IS NOT A COMMERCIAL COMPANY

As to the criticism, voiced in some quarters that Almogi’s nomination would be a cynical exercise of power by the Labor Party, the Haifa Mayor replies forcefully: “The World Zionist Organization is not a commercial company or government office in which seniority determines appointments. It is a political organization based on democratic party processes and it is idle to ignore this fact.

“The position in question is not that of WZO president–which is an apolitical role that has been held by two apolitical personalities: (Chaim) Weizmann and (Nahum) Goldmann.” The decision should be taken, moreover in WZO rather than Jewish Agency forums, Almogi says, because the agreement between the two bodies stipulates that the WZO chairman should be the Agency chairman and not vice-versa.

Almogi dismisses as ignorant gossip the claims made by his opponents that he is inexperienced in Jewish and Zionist affairs. In fact, he insists, he is thoroughly familiar with the entire Jewish diaspora. Hardly a month has gone by in recent years without his having made brief but energetic sallies abroad on behalf of the United Jewish Appeal and the Israel Bond Organization. Critics agree that he is an effective fund-raiser in Yiddish and in English.

NOT NEW AT THE GAME

Almogi says he has been so ensconced in his work inside Israel (for the 10 years preceding the last election he was a Cabinet Minister) that people have tended to overlook his efforts abroad. “I’m not new at this game,” Almogi says. He recalls that on several of his missions Leon Dulzin, likely to be his opponent for the chairmanship, “accompanied me.”

Almogi says he was not disappointed by the Labor leadership’s decision last week to postpone a final decision to support him pending consultations with Jewish leaders from overseas. Although the election is primarily within the WZO, it would be “unrealistic” to imagine that the major fund-raising bodies have no interest in it, Almogi concedes.

He seems, however, quietly confident that he will get the Labor nomination and will be elected chairman. If he is, Dulzin is pledged to fight him at the Zionist Congress in December, 1976. What program will be put forward to win votes? That bridge, says Almogi, “we will cross when we reach it.”

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