Battle for Jewish Agency Chair Begins As Candidates Hurl Rhetoric

The fight for the chairmanship of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the World Zionist Organization began in earnest this week, with the two candidates hurling rhetorical brickbats at each other through the Israeli media.

Acting chairman Yehiel Leket and Knesset Member Avrum Burg are running for their Labor Party’s endorsement in a vote of the party’s central committee slated for early February.

It is Israel’s political establishment that proposes the chairman of the World Zionist Organization. That person is then automatically elected chairman of the Jewish Agency – subject to the approval of the fund-raising groups in the Diaspora, who comprise half of the Agency’s board of governors.

The Jewish Agency is the primary recipient of funds raised for Israel by the United Jewish Appeal in the United States.

The WZO undertakes Jewish educational efforts in the Diaspora and provides the mechanism for Diaspora Zionist organizations to participate in Jewish Agency decisions.

The WZO and Agency chairmanships fell vacant with the resignation of Simcha Dinitz, who is currently on trial in Jerusalem for allegedly using Agency credit cards for unauthorized personal purposes.

Leket charged Sunday that Burg was “a Trojan horse” who was being run by his longtime political comrades – Knesset members Yossi Beilin, Haggai Merom and Haim Ramon, the Histadrut secretary-general – all of whom are publicly committed to the dissolution of the Jewish Agency, which they regard as an anachronism.

If Burg were elected chairman, Leket told reporters in Tel Aviv, he would being about from the inside that which he has long advocated from the outside – the abolition of the Agency.

Leket also said Burg was “a man of a thousand words, and no deeds.” As such, he was well suited to his present career as a parliamentarian while he, Leket, who had a proven record of action, was the man for the job at the Agency.

Burg, in reply, said Leket’s remarks were “not worthy of a serious response.”

But he went on to accuse his rival of “slinging garbage” and using “sewer tactics.”

On a less polemical note, Leket warned Burg against turning their contest into a clash of the separate camps within the Labor Party. One of the camps is aligned with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, the other with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Last week, Burg attended a meeting of thirteen Labor Knesset members at Peres’ office in Jerusalem, where his candidacy for the Agency was warmly endorsed by the host and most of the assembled politicos.

Peres was quoted as saying at the meeting that Leket was a “silent chairman” who had failed to elicit any support from Diaspora communities.

Leket, however, has the support of Rabin, though sources close to Rabin have signaled that he does not want the Agency contest to exacerbate tensions between the prime minister and the foreign minister.

Leket on Sunday maintained he was strongly supported by Jews abroad. He urged Peres to check out the information he was being fed by various aides and purported followers who, he said, apparently were serving their own separate agendas.

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