NEW YORK, Feb. 11 (JTA) — Ronald Lauder, cosmetics heir and former U.S. ambassador to Austria, has taken over the helm of the Jewish National Fund of America. The board unanimously elected Lauder on Monday, making his presidency effective immediately. Lauder succeeds Milton Shapiro, whose term was slated to end at the end of this year. But he resigned in deference to the reform effort afoot at the organization. The reforms, including the search for a new executive vice president, were undertaken in November following disclosures of fiscal and management problems. Lauder’s high profile in the business and philanthropic world is clearly seen as a boost for the shaken organization. As for Lauder, he is expected to seek the chairmanship of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. In order to be a candidate for that office, he must hold the presidency of a member-organization. No reporters were allowed into the board meeting late Monday afternoon when the vote on Lauder’s nomination took place. Just prior to the meeting, Lauder was asked what he would bring to the leadership of JNF. “JNF is one of the most critical organizations to the future of Israel,” he responded. He said he hoped to help “supply the necessary resources” to JNF to solve problems, including those dealing with water, which he termed one of the biggest challenges in the Middle East. As far as his broader political aspirations in the Jewish organizational world, he said he had no comment. Inside the meeting, he was reported also to have said, “With its continuing commitment to Zionist programs in America, JNF is also cultivating the next generation of JNF and community leaders.” There had been some concern over recent disclosures that large sums of JNF money stay in the United States for educational programs compared to the amount of money being sent to Israel for land reclamation. Lauder, the son of Estee Lauder, is known among other things, for his efforts to revive Jewish life in Eastern Europe. In 1989, Lauder spent $14 million on an unsuccessful run in the Republican primary for the mayoralty of New York.
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