Fund-raisers Veto Labor Candidate for Wzo-agency Post As Agency Board of Governors Elects Chairman
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Fund-raisers Veto Labor Candidate for Wzo-agency Post As Agency Board of Governors Elects Chairman

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A powerful group of Jewish diaspora fund-raisers has decided to oppose the leading candidate for the chairmanship of the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency Executive.

News of the surprise move surfaced Wednesday as the Jewish Agency Board of Governors voted unanimously to elect Mendel Kaplan, a lawyer and businessman from South Africa, as its next chairman, the top position in international Jewish philanthropy.

Although Kaplan, 51, who lives in Cape Town, entered the race as a dark horse earlier this year, his victory had been expected.

The big surprise was the fund-raisers’ move to oppose Akiva Lewinsky as chairman of the WZO-Agency Executive. Lewinsky is the Labor Party candidate for the post — one of several to be filled through elections during the World Zionist Congress, which opens here Dec 6.

Labor last week hammered out a package deal with other Zionist groups virtually assuring Lewinsky’s election.

Under the arrangement, Labor would offer the post of WZO treasurer to Avraham Avihai, a Canadian-born Israeli who was the choice of the Confederation of United Zionists, of which Hadassah is the largest component.

Other top portfolios were to go to the Association of Reform Zionists of America and to Mercaz, the Conservative Zionist organization. In exchange, these groups — who with Labor reportedly control 320 of the 535 delegates to the Zionist Congress — were to support Lewinsky.


But according to power-sharing rules between the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization, the outcome of the WZO elections is subject to the “advice and consent” of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors.

The 74-member Board of Governors is evenly split between “Zionist” representatives of the WZO and prominent Jewish leaders and philanthropists — referred to as “the fund-raisers,” 22 of whom are Americans.

Labor thought the philanthropists would back Lewinsky, despite serious doubts expressed by some American fund-raisers over the exclusion of Likud from the slate of officers.

But the package deal was unacceptable to the “Committee of 12,” a high-level body of Jewish Agency fund-raisers who met earlier this week and voted against Lewinsky and the other members of his proposed slate.


“We were presented with a package deal and that package we turned down,” Kaplan said at a news conference shortly after his election.

As chairman of the world board of trustees of Keren Hayesod, which handles fund raising outside the United States, Kaplan had been known as a supporter of Lewinsky. But he apparently voted against him at the “Committee of 12” meeting.

Close associates of Lewinsky noted that the fund-raisers can still change their minds at the Zionist Congress. Sources in the fund-raisers’ camp said, however, that their opposition to Lewinsky was firm and that Labor had been warned not to submit him as a candidate.

A kibbutz member and former managing director of Bank Hapoalim, Lewinsky is seen by many U.S. philanthropists as too much a part of the system they hope to reform. One of his leading opponents was Jerold Hoffberger of Baltimore, chairman of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors for the past four years, whom Kaplan will succeed.


Observers here believe Lewinsky would have been turned down even if his candidacy had been presented separately from that of the other candidates on the slate, because of a power struggle within the Jewish Agency.

Lewinsky would replace the outgoing WZO Jewish Agency chairman, Leon (Arye) Dulzin of the Liberal wing of Likud.

Yehiel Leket, chairman of the Labor Zionist movement, accused Dulzin Wednesday of “dirty tricks.” he said Dulzin had submitted the names of Labor’s candidates for review although he had no authority to do so. Dulzin denied the charge.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, leader of the Labor Party, was reportedly stunned by the veto of Lewinsky. He is said to have personally contacted the heads of the fund-raising organizations this week to ensure their backing for Lewinsky.

Haaretz reported Wednesday that Labor has begun seeking alternative candidates. One name mentioned was Gad Yaacobi, the minister of economic coordination in the Labor-Likud coalition Cabinet. But Labor Party sources said it was too early to give up the battle.

Likud has not yet put up a candidate to challenge Lewinsky and he still could be elected by acclamation at the Zionist Congress — only to be vetoed again later by the diaspora philanthropists.


The candidacy of Kaplan to chair the board of governors was also controversial in its initial stages, largely because he is a South African. The board chairmanship has been in American hands since the Board of Governors was founded in 1971 to reconstitute the Jewish Agency.

Dulzin himself said in a recent interview that “American Jewry is the largest community in the diaspora and it’s important that the chairman’s job go to an American.”

Peres was reportedly concerned about the diplomatic implications for Israel if a South African is elected to an important, highly visible post in Jewish philanthropies.

Nevertheless, Kaplan was selected by the eight-member nominating committee — five of them American philanthropists and the others from Australia, Canada and France.

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