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Zionists Dismayed over Rabin Plan to Eliminate Jewish Agency Posts

Zionists from around the world gathered this week in the Galilee, where they heatedly pledged to resist what they see as a drive by the Diaspora fundraising establishment to curtail their power in the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Some charged there is not only a growing ideological gap between the two sides but personal enmity toward the Zionists on the part of the Diaspora leaders who raise money for the Jewish Agency.

Nevertheless, most of the 400 delegates to the annual meeting of the Zionist General Council, a legislative arm of the World Zionist Congress, appeared resigned to a recommendation by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin calling for an eventual restructuring of the Jewish Agency.

That restructuring could change the carefully orchestrated partnership that, more than anything, defines the relationship between the World Zionist Organization and the Diaspora fund-raisers.

American Zionist delegates, meanwhile, are calling for greater representation in a proposed expansion of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors.

For many months, leaders of the United Israel Appeal and Keren Hayesod, which raise money for the Jewish Agency have sought to abolish the WZO-appointed heads of the various Jewish Agency departments. These chairmen set policy, which is then implemented by the departments’ professional director-generals.

The critics claim the chairmanships are political patronage jobs that are wasteful and inefficient. The Zionists maintain the appointments are a reflection of democratic leadership and Zionist ideology critical to the proper operation of the Jewish Agency.

While only two jobs are now at stake, many see the issue as emblematic of the growing gap between the two sides. Indeed, the Zionists have responded to the initiative as a frontal assault on Zionism itself.

ATTEMPT TO GAIN ‘UPPER HAND’

They also believe it reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the Israeli political system. The Jewish Agency, they argue, needs politically powerful representatives who can work with the immigrant absorption minister and other top government leaders in a way professionals cannot.

The impasse over this and other questions plaguing the Jewish Agency’s administration resulted in the formation of a “committee of six” charged with reconciling the differences between the Zionists and the fund-raisers. The committee was split evenly to give each side three representatives.

But unable to reach agreement on the department heads issue, the committee took the unusual step of going to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin for mediation.

Rabin’s recommendation, presented Tuesday to the Zionist General Council by Jewish Agency and WZO Chairman Simcha Dinitz, called for maintaining the status quo, but only temporarily.

Rabin said that, “in light of recent changes in the Jewish world” and in the interest of efficiency, “a different structure” should be devised through negotiations that will be brought to the next Zionist Congress in four years.

Until then said Rabin, current department heads should serve according to the existing constitution.

The recommendation was greeted with grave reservations by the Zionist Council, with many delegates attacking the Diaspora fund-raisers for provoking the controversy.

“This is (another) attempt by the fundraisers to have the upper hand,” said a representative from the Mapam party. “This is a political struggle.”

“Our partners do not understand the sense of the Zionist movement,” said Uri Gordon, chairman of the Jewish Agency’s Immigration and Absorption Department, one of the jobs at stake in the dispute.

The Diaspora leaders do not recognize, he said, that the elected leaders “enhance” the Jewish Agency and that without them, it is weaker. “If they want status and recognition (for the Jewish Agency), they need department heads.”

But Gordon said he would not go against the prime minister, whose recommendation, he said, produced no winners and no losers, He agreed that the problem has to be solved “once and for all” so the Jewish Agency can move on to more important matters.

BOARD OF GOVERNORS TO GROW

“This is the most sensitive item, loaded with emotions,” said Shlomo Gravitz, head of the Youth and Hechalutz Department of the WZO.

The conflict could never successfully be resolved by the committee of six because it represents a fundamental “ideological gap,” Gravitz said, between “our partners (who) do not regard Israel as the center of Jewish life.”

New York, he said, is threatening to eclipse Israel in importance for the fund-raisers, whose demand for the abolition of department heads, he claimed, signals a broader campaign against the Zionist movement.

They “don’t respect the representatives of the Zionist movement in general and the Israeli representatives in particular,” he said.

He took the fund-raisers to task for with holding their required approval “in a brutal way” of the appointments of the two department heads in question who, as a result, are serving only at the discretion of Dinitz.

“We want a partnership, not dictates,” he said.

The committee of six also endorsed the expansion of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors from 74 to 120, with a formula that was challenged by American Zionist leaders.

The formula calls for adding 23 representatives from the fund-raising side and 23 from among the Zionists, with three or four of these to come from outside Israel.

Such meager representation from Diaspora Zionists was decried by Seymour Reich, president of the American Zionist Movement, who said it seemed to indicate a “disparagement of Zionists outside Israel.”

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