NEW YORK (Dec. 3)
It may be too soon to call, but Ronald Lauder – – cosmetics heir, philanthropist and former U.S. ambassador to Austria – – apparently is being eyed as the next president of the Jewish National Fund of America.
Some believe he and his high profile could be just the prescription for the organization’s recovery, following problems that surfaced recently over its fiscal management.
JNF’s current president, Milton Shapiro, is slated to step down after his second term concludes at the end of next year.
Lauder “is somebody who has experience in business as well as resources which could help in efforts JNF has undertaken to reorganize and address concerns that have been raised,” said Malcolm Hoenlein.
Hoenlein is the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and a friend of Lauder’s.
“He has demonstrated his commitment to Jewish causes and to Israel,” Hoenlein added, recalling trips with Lauder to Eastern Europe, where he said Lauder has invested heavily in Jewish camps and schools.
Lauder, an active Republican and ardent advocate of term limits, is also close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mark Cohen, JNF spokesman, declined to comment on Lauder or any other candidate who might be tapped for the top lay job.
He would only say: “There is a nominating committee in the process of being formed to select a slate of officers to help carry JNF into the 21st century.”
Lauder was unavailable for comment, but his spokesman, Gene Secunda, said, “If, in fact, there is anything going on, I have no information about it.”
New JNF officers are not scheduled to be elected until JNF’s next annual board meeting in November 1997, and ordinarily nominations would not be made until the summer before.
But the nominating process has been advanced to get new leadership in place quickly in an effort to show JNF is serious about reform and restructuring.
The decision to change the timetable was one of several taken during annual meetings last month which focused on the fallout from an internal probe of the organization’s spending and accounting practices.
The probe found no malfeasance, but revealed that a surprisingly small portion of the money raised – roughly 20 percent – actually gets to Israel, while a large portion stays in the United States for Zionist education and promotion of the JNF enterprise.
Publicity surrounding the findings shook confidence in the charity, whose mission historically has focused on reclaiming and developing the land of Israel.
A task force is being formed to determine how to increase the flow of dollars to Israel.
The organization also has launched a search for a replacement for Samuel Cohen, the top professional, who has moved to the post of senior executive vice president.
JNF also must find a replacement for Paul Jeser, the national campaign director who left to work for American Friends of Hebrew University.