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Special Interview Almogi: Time Was out of Joint

Yosef Almogi’s two years at the helm of the Jewish Agency/World Zionist Organization have not been an entirely happy or fulfilling time for him, and he admits it. “I wasn’t able to develop the momentum, to introduce the changes that I had planned,” he says in a matter-of-fact way, without patent bitterness or remorse.

He took the post, he recalls, in February 1976, after Pinchas Sapir’s sudden death, full of plans and hopes: “I wanted to encourage the national Zionist federations around the world to take on much greater responsibilities. I wanted to strengthen the aliya movements. I was going to lay down clear and strict criteria for the appointment of shlichim (emissaries) and for their training. My design called for the establishment of aliya desks in every major community of the free world, to be run by the communities themselves. And there were many other ideas. . . . “

His overall scheme envisaged his confirmation as chairman at the World Zionist Congress that was to have been held in January 1977 and at which he intended to outline his proposals and initiate the changes. But the Congress was postponed for a year because of an appeal by the Herut-Hatzohar movement against the decision to dispense with elections in countries where “agreed lists” could be drawn up. The postponement was Almogi’s first blow.

HIS DAYS WERE NUMBERED

He had hardly recovered when the second, and final blow struck. Israel underwent a “political earthquake” in the 1977 May elections–with Likud taking over the government. It was immediately obvious that one spinoff of that revolution would be Almogi’s displacement at the next World Zionist Congress by a Likud leader. Illness compounded the former Haifa Labor boss’s misfortunes.

He immediately acknowledged publicly that his days as chairman were numbered and prepared to spend the next nine months in a “lame duck” role. Due process demanded that he stand down formally only at the Congress–and he was not one “to run away” before that, as he observed philosophically.

To his own Labor Party he counseled caution against those who demanded that a fight be put up to stop Leon Dulzin, the Likud candidate. “To me it was clear all along that Dulzin commands a majority–the same majority upon which the government coalition rests,” he said.

Meanwhile, he quietly commenced preparations for the Congress, working, as he attests, in harmony with all the Executive members, both those who will stay on and those who will make way for others after next week.

PURPOSE OF ZIONIST MOVEMENT

Despite his own mixed memories, Almogi continues to believe passionately in the purpose of the Zionist movement. “It has a vital and ongoing role,” he declares, to help the State in various ways, and to deepen Zionist consciousness in the diaspora. The concrete expressions of this role are in aliya and Jewish education, says Almogi.

He is firmly in favor of scrapping the division between the WZO’s Education Department and its Department of Torah Education. “In the State itself,” he observed, “we have a single Education Ministry which is responsible for both secular and religious schools.” Unlike his successor, Dulzin, however, he does not believe that “secular Jewish education” itself is a mistaken or anachronistic concept.

Though he himself is making way for a Likud man, Almogi waxed indignant at the thought that Labor might be left after the Congress with neither the chairmanship nor the treasury under its control–the two top posts in the Zionist movement. He claimed that Labor’s demand for the treasury post will be backed by a majority of delegates, since neither the Religious Zionists nor the World Confederation of United Zionists will want to see both top jobs in the hands of one political party.

Dulzin, however, favors Herut’s Yoram Aridor, presently Deputy Minister in the Premier’s Office for treasurer, and has so far firmly rejected Labor’s demands for the post.

What of the future? At 68, with a long record of union, municipal and Cabinet service behind him, Almogi said he hasn’t yet thought about it. “But certainly I won’t leave public life altogether,” he declared. “First I’ll take a rest, and then go back to my beloved Haifa. Then, we’ll see.”

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