Zionist Congress Elects Dinitz Chairman of WZO Executive
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Zionist Congress Elects Dinitz Chairman of WZO Executive

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Simcha Dinitz, a Labor member of the Knesset and a former ambassador to the United States, was elected chairman of the World Zionist Organization Executive by a substantial margin at the 31st World Zionist Congress here Monday.

He defeated his Likud challenger, Science and Industry Minister Gideon Patt, by a vote of 310-220. The election was by secret ballot.

In his victory speech, Dinitz urged President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to put human rights at the center of their agenda for the summit that begins Tuesday in Washington.

He also pledged to reduce waste and duplication in the WZO and Jewish Agency departments he will be administering. Dinitz is virtually certain to be selected for the parallel post of Jewish Agency Executive chairman. He received the unanimous endorsement last week of the powerful overseas Jewish philanthropists on the Jewish Agency Board of Governors.

His promise to improve the workings of the WZO-Jewish Agency bureaucracy seemed to be in direct response to President Chaim Herzog of Israel, who called for a radical “soul searching” on the part of the WZO in his speech at the festive opening of the congress Sunday night at the Binyanei Haooma convention hall here. Herzog spoke critically of “duplication, narrow interests, and inefficiency” in the WZO.

The outgoing WZO-Jewish Agency chairman, Leon (Arye) Dulzin of Likud’s Liberal party wing, also appeared to tailor his valedictory address to the theme sounded by Herzog.


Dulzin urged that the Israeli government take over operative responsibility for immigrant absorption in its entirety, instead of the present blurred responsibilities between the Jewish Agency and the Absorption Ministry. He said the WZO-Jewish Agency should confine itself to encouraging and facilitating aliyah.

Dinitz’s relatively easy win over the Likud candidate was expected. He was supported by a powerful coalition the Labor Party put together with the Confederation of General Zionists, in which Hadassah is dominant; the Conservative Zionist movement, Mercaz; and the Reform Zionist movement, ARZA.

The Conservative and Reform Zionists had indicated they could not support Patt because, among other things, he voted in the Knesset in favor of the Orthodox-inspired amendment to the Law of Return, which would invalidate conversions performed by non-Orthodox rabbis.

Dulzin also called on Premier Yitzhak Shamir and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, leaders of Likud and the Labor Party respectively, to agree between themselves before next year’s Knesset elections that the Law of Return will not be changed. “We in Israel ought not to take an internal political action whose ramifications affect the entire Jewish community,” he said.

Peres, who attended the opening session of the congress, pledged that the Labor Party would oppose any change and would support the removal of that divisive issue from the national agenda for the next 10 years.

Dinitz’s election did not end the politicking at the congress. The other members of the WZO Executive have to be chosen, each of whom will head a department. Traditionally, the key post of treasurer goes to the party of the losing candidate for chairman.

Some observers here believe that Labor will make an effort to relegate Likud to relatively minor portfolios. But it is unclear from the election results whether Labor can in fact muster the necessary strength to exclude Likud.


Mendel Kaplan of South Africa, the recently elected chairman of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, emphasized aliyah in his address to the congress Sunday night. He urged every Zionist leader to set a personal example in that regard.

“Either you make aliyah, or you are no leader,” Kaplan declared. He has a home in Israel, but spends part of the year in Johannesburg. He vowed that as head of the Board of Governors he would work closely with the WZO and strive for full cooperation.

Akiva Lewinsky, the outgoing WZO-Jewish Agency treasurer, told the congress Monday that the Jewish Agency debt has been reduced by $185 million and stands now at $200 million. He said without that achievement, there could have been no absorption of Soviet and Ethiopian immigrants and no massive aide to agricultural settlements in recent years.

Lewinsky had been the Labor Party’s original candidate for the WZO-Jewish Agency chairmanship. He dropped out of the race after the diaspora Jewish philanthropists announced in October that they wanted new blood and would not support him.

In his report to the congress, Lewinsky said that the WZO-Jewish Agency work force has been cut 26 percent over the last 10 years and that some of the salaries are well below the national average.

On Sunday, Hadassah President Ruth Popkin was elected to the prestigious post of chairman of the congress, defeating Raya Jaglom, president of WIZO, the Women’s International Zionist Organization. The vote, by a show of hands, represented a victory of the Labor coalition over the Likud bloc.

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