JERUSALEM (Dec. 6)
President Chaim Herzog called Sunday for a radical “soul searching” on the part of the World Zionist Organization.
In a hard-hitting speech at the festive opening of the 31st World Zionist Congress here Sunday evening, the president gave voice to the widespread sense of dissatisfaction over the state and functioning of the Zionist movement.
He spoke of “duplication, narrow interests, and inefficiency” in the WZO.
The WZO and Jewish Agency are both non-governmental bureaucracies whose missions include encouraging aliyah, facilitating the absorption of new immigrants and the construction of settlements — all tasks handled, in some measure, by various government ministries.
Israelis, more and more, are calling into question the real purpose of the WZO and Jewish Agency and in recent years have viewed World Zionist Congresses, which have been held in Jerusalem since the founding of the state, with apathy.
The mass-circulation daily Yediot Achronot seemed to sum up the public attitude in an editorial Sunday which suggested that if Israelis had their way, the first act of the new chairman would be to abolish the WZO and the Jewish Agency.
But Haaretz said Sunday that “even the fiercest critics of the WZO establishment acknowledge the need for a body which will foster ties between the diaspora and Israel.”
The nature of the diaspora’s relationship with Israel has surfaced as a major theme at this year’s congress, in part because of the role diaspora philanthropists have played in the selection of the new chairman of the WZO and Jewish Agency Executive, who is to be elected Monday by congress delegates.
DINITZ FAVORED FOR TOP POST
Simcha Dinitz, a Labor member of the Knesset and former Israeli ambassador to the United States, seems virtually assured of election to the powerful post, thanks mainly to a unanimous endorsement he received last week by a powerful contingent of American philanthropists on the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors.
Of the 538 voting delegates at the congress, 190 are from Israel, 152 from the United States and the remaining 196 are from other diaspora nations around the world.
The voting will take place by secret ballot, which means that party discipline cannot be monitored. But political observers say the Labor-led coalition at the congress is solidly behind Dinitz, who was formally nominated by the Labor Party’s central committee last Thursday, by a plurality of only 27 votes.
Labor’s allies are the powerful Confederation of General Zionists, dominated by Hadassah; the Conservative Zionist movement, Mercaz; and the Reform Zionist movement, ARZA. Together, they are said to command a majority of 16 among the 538 voting delegates.
The Likud candidate challenging Dinitz is Science and Technology Minister Gideon Patt, a member of the bloc’s Liberal Party wing. He has been lobbying delegates vigorously over the weekend, citing his 10 years as a Cabinet minister, which, he maintains, makes him better qualified than his rival to carry the heavy administrative burden of running the WZO-Jewish Agency Executive.
But Labor’s allies in the Conservative and Reform movements have noted pointedly that Patt has voted in the Knesset for the Orthodox inspired amendment to the Law of Return that would invalidate conversions performed by non-Orthodox rabbis.
Following Labor’s nomination of the popular Dinitz on Thursday, Likud sought a stronger candidate than Patt, who is relatively unknown in the diaspora.
A Likud ministerial caucus that met Friday under the chairmanship of Premier Yitzhak Shamir, tried in vain to persuade former Defense Minister Moshe Arens to enter the race for the WZO-Jewish Agency chairmanship.
Arens, an outspoken Herut veteran is also a former ambassador to the United States and is well known and well liked by the American Jewish community. But he declined to accept his party’s offer, though he agreed to campaign for Patt.
Observers said Arens doubted he could overcome Dinitz and did not want to return to local politics with a defeat on his record.
Meanwhile, the outgoing WZO-Jewish Agency chairman, Leon (Arye) Dulzin, is waging what observers say is a losing battle for the title of president of the WZO, a largely honorary office that has not been conferred on any Zionist leader for 20 years.
The 31st Congress, which runs through Thursday, was formally opened at the Binyanei Haooma convention center here by the oldest delegate, 88-year-old Shneur Zalman Shragai, a religious Zionist thinker and writer.