Zionists, Fund-raisers Agree on Reforming the Jewish Agency
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Zionists, Fund-raisers Agree on Reforming the Jewish Agency

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A compromise has at last been reached in a long-running dispute between the two factions comprising the Jewish Agency for Israel.

The agreement will continue the process of disengaging the Jewish Agency from Israeli politics.

Under the deal, two department head positions that have traditionally been filled with political appointees will be eliminated.

And the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors will be expanded to include Israelis with accomplishments outside the political arena.

The Jewish Agency is the principal recipient of money raised for Israel by the United Jewish Appeal. Much of its half-billion-dollar budget is devoted to bringing emigres from the former Soviet Union and elsewhere to Israel, and assisting in their absorption.

The agreement still requires formal ratification and will not take full effect for four years.

Depoliticization has long been a goal of the so-called Diaspora fund-raisers, representatives of the United Jewish Appeal and Keren Hayesod campaigns that fund the Jewish Agency and share control of it with the World Zionist Organization.

The WZO, by contrast, is organized along political lines. It includes representatives of Diaspora Zionist organizations, such as Hadassah and the Religious Zionists of America, apportioned according to elections last held in 1987, as well as representatives of Israeli political parties, apportioned according to the Knesset elections.

Among the proposed changes will be the inclusion of Israelis not part of the political system among the WZO’s delegation to the Jewish Agency board.

“Involving more Israelis in the whole process will help the Jewish Agency be seen as an integral part of the fabric of Israeli society, instead of as a separate Diaspora-led entity,” said Shoshana Cardin, chairman of the Goals and Priorities Committee of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors.


The conflict between the two separate cultures of the Jewish Agency — the apolitical, largely American fund-raisers and the political, largely Israeli Zionists — came to a head recently over the question of whether two Jewish Agency departments, Immigrant Absorption and Youth Aliyah, needed both a chairman and a director-general.

The fund-raisers argued that the department chairmen, selected along partisan lines in accordance with the political divisions in the WZO, duplicate the work of the director-generals, who are generally staff professionals.

WZO leaders argued that the department chairmen perform a role parallel to that of a lay leader of an American organization.

Under the agreement hammered out by a six-member committee of each side’s top leadership and announced at a recent meeting of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, the department chairmen’s posts will be eliminated, but not until 1997.

The agreement requires formal ratification from the member bodies of the Jewish Agency, as well as of the Jewish Agency itself. But it is expected that weariness over the long-running debate and a desire to conclude it will outweigh any qualms with the agreement.

The most far-reaching clause of the agreement may be one that would expand the Jewish Agency Board of Governors from 74 to 120 members.

The WZO would have to use its additional seats on the board to include Israeli leaders chosen on a basis other than politics.

These 23 new board members are slated to include academicians, business leaders and mayors of the underprivileged towns served by the Jewish Agency.

“It will enable personal relationships with Israeli peers — educators, social scientists, entrepreneurs — who would ordinarily not come through the current structure,” said Cardin.

Among the other clauses in the proposed agreement is a moratorium on further changes in the governance structure of the Jewish Agency and WZO until 1997.

Members of the committee of six were Simcha Dinitz, chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive; Mendel Kaplan, chairman of the Board of Governors; Founding Chairman Max Fisher; United Israel Appeal Chairman Norman Lipoff; Yehiel Leket, chairman of the Jewish Agency Youth Aliyah Department; and Shlomo Gravetz, chairman of the Youth and Hechalutz Department of the WZO.

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