Dinitz to Take a Leave of Absence from Agency, but Only if Indicted

Simcha Dinitz will take a leave of absence as chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel if the state attorney general indicts him on charges of embezzlement, according to an agreement reached this week.

Until then, he will remain in his post, though the time demands of his legal case are likely to reduce his daily duties.

The agreement, announced Wednesday, stipulates that Dinitz will voluntarily retire on Dec. 31, 1994 if legal proceedings that may be initiated against him are not concluded by then.

If Dinitz is exonerated before the end of 1994, however, he has the right to remain in office. But Dinitz said he plans to retire anyway, though he reserves the right to keep his options open.

Dinitz, a Labor Party politician and former ambassador to the United States, is accused of embezzling thousands of dollars through improper use of his Jewish Agency credit card.

The Israeli police concluded an investigation of those charges last week and reportedly recommended to the attorney general that he be indicted.

The agreement fulfilled a commitment made July 1 by the Jewish Agency Board of Governors to resolve the Dinitz affair by the end of August. It was reached only after intensive behind-the-scenes negotiations between Dinitz, Board of Governors Chairman Mendel Kaplan, founding Chairman Max Fisher and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Announcing the agreement at a news conference Wednesday, Kaplan conceded that “if we had had a quicker resolution, it would have been better-received around the world.”

But he added that Jewish Agency leaders “had to balance the rights of the individual with the integrity of the organization.”

Several leaders of Diaspora fund-raising bodies had wanted Dinitz to take an immediate leave of absence. They claimed that the allegations against him, whether true or not, have tainted the Jewish Agency and damaged their fund-raising campaigns.

Reaction from them was muted Wednesday, with most choosing not to comment at this time.

NO DECISION ON REPLACEMENT

Kaplan stressed that the decision not to remove Dinitz from his post immediately and to wait for action by the attorney general is in keeping with Israeli practice and custom.

In a letter Kaplan wrote announcing the decision, he explained that in Israel, “any such action taken before the decision of the attorney general to submit the case to court could be an admission of guilt and prejudice the rights of the chairman.”

“The Jewish Agency is a body and organization in Israel,” he said, pointedly, “which operates according to the laws and customs of the State of Israel.”

“We cannot impose on Israel the customs and usage” of “other countries,” he added.

The recommendation, which was accepted by an advisory group of leaders of the United Israel Appeal, Keren Hayesod and the World Zionist Organization, took into consideration a report on the allegations against Dinitz made by Judge Abraham Gafni, a Jewish Agency leader from Philadelphia who was asked to look into the affair’s impact on fund raising.

In the event Dinitz goes on leave, the resulting vacancy will be filled by the Board of Governors in consultation with the constituent organizations and the heads of the Israeli political parties.

“At that time, we will make a recommendation, but we have made no such decision,” said Kaplan.

Kaplan acknowledged damage had been done to the Jewish Agency’s reputation over the affair, though he became outraged when a reporter suggested it now had a corrupt image in the minds of Israelis.

He said a lot of harm had been done by inaccurate media reports and that the Jewish Agency was considering what he implied would be legal action in response.

He also criticized the Israeli system that compels the police to open a file based on a complaint, regardless of its source or legitimacy.

What the consequent investigation “does to an individual and organization is terrifying,” he said.

TIME FOR A ‘HEALING PROCESS’

Kaplan denied that the serious strains over the affair meant that the Israel-Diaspora relationship was a “shaky” one. He pointed out that the differences of opinion were not neatly broken down along Israel-Diaspora lines, since many Diaspora Zionists backed Dinitz.

But in the internal letter of announcement, he characterized the affair as “the most difficult (of) problems we have ever encountered.”

In New York, Seymour Reich, who as president of the American Zionist Movement has been one of Dinitz’s loudest supporters, described Wednesday’s decision as “a sad conclusion to a lamentable episode.

“It’s time to move on and get it behind us, and for the Zionist community and the fund-raising community to engage in a healing process, so we can do what we’re supposed to do, which is immigration and absorption in Israel,” he said.

An opinion not all that different was given by a representative of the fund-raisers who has been a delegate to the Jewish Agency Assembly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

“I just think the whole thing is sad,” he said. “That we got into the this mess, that we didn’t get out of it earlier, that it was allowed to drag on and hurt the credibility of both the person and the institution.”

Kaplan said the Jewish Agency would have to contain the damage done and work to win back trust that may have eroded among Jewish community federations in North America.

To further that effort, Kaplan said, a live satellite hookup between Jewish Agency leaders and federations is planned for next week.

Meanwhile, Dinitz is now being investigated by the Israeli tax authorities after documents handed over by the police show a possible failure to properly report spending abroad.

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