Behind the Headlines: Labor Party Sources Confident Their Man Will Win Top Zionist Post
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Behind the Headlines: Labor Party Sources Confident Their Man Will Win Top Zionist Post

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Akiva Lewinsky, nominated unanimously by the Labor Party Central Committee last week as Labor’s candidate for the chairmanship of the world Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency Executives, “is virtually certain of election” at the 31st World Zionist Congress to be held here in December, according to Labor Party sources.

They base their confidence mainly on the unpopularity of Likud among diaspora Zionists because of its support of the controversial “Who is a Jew?” legislation pressed by the religious parties in the Knesset.

They also cited the recent WZO elections in the United States in which Zionist parties dedicate to religious pluralism in Israel made significant gains at the expense of the religious parties and their rightwing supporters.

These sources acknowledged that there have been reservations about Lewinsky among some powerful circles in American Jewry. But, they told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, those circles, mainly the non-Zionist half of the Jewish Agency including the major fund-raisers, will “advise and consent” to Lewinsky’s election “once they get to know him better.”


They said that doubts about Lewinsky, who is currently the WZO-Jewish Agency Treasurer, stemmed from “his image as an establishment figure and the desire to break away from establishment molds.” The sources said Lewinsky is being urged to tour major Jewish communities in the U.S., and hold in-depth discussions with key leadership figures there. As for the rest of the diaspora, where Keren Hayesod, not the United Jewish Appeal, is responsible for fund-raising, “Lewinsky has no problems. He is known and liked,” they said.

According to the Labor sources, the major Zionist parties, such as the General Zionist Confederation which includes Hadassah, the Zionist Organization of America and probably Mizrachi, will support Lewinsky at the Zionist Congress. They intimated that the Confederation and the ZOA already have pledged their support.

In the recent elections in the U.S. for Congress delegates, the Reform Zionist list (ARZA) and the newly formed Conservative list (MERCAZ) did especially well. Both had lobbied strenuously against the latest attempt by the ultra-Orthodox parties, with the support of Likud, to push through amendments to the law which would have defined a Jew according to Orthodox tenets and given the Chief Rabbinate sole authority to approve converts.

Nevertheless, Lewinsky would have a formidable opponent if Likud nominates Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s popular Ambassador to the United Nations, to oppose him. According to reliable sources, Netanyahu has not yet decided to run for the WZO-Jewish Agency chairmanship. He has intimated that he would like a Likud Knesset seat in the next elections. But it is not likely that the Likud leadership will offer him both the top Zionist post and a safe place on its Knesset list.


Labor sources contend that even if Netanyahu were to run for the WZO-Jewish Agency chairmanship and distance himself personally from Likud’s pro-Orthodox position on “Who is a Jew?” the issue of pluralism would be a top priority at the Zionist Congress, as it was in the election of delegates.

“We in Labor can say to the overseas delegates: ‘We have made great political sacrifices in order to maintain our position on ‘Who is a Jew?’ How could you now contemplate betraying us and betraying that position?” a Labor source told the JTA.

The only declared candidate for the other top Zionist office — chairman of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors — is Mendel Kaplan, the South African Jewish leader. According to well-placed sources, American Jewish leaders are reluctant to allow this prestigious appointment to slip away from American Jewry’s control. An agree-upon American candidate is expected to emerge before the next Board of Governors meeting in October.

The sources said that Irwin Field of Los Angeles would have the Board’s wide backing. But he has decline to be drafted for personal reasons.

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