Diaspora philanthropists on the Jewish Agency Board of Governors have given their unanimous support to Simcha Dinitz for the office of chairman of the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency Executive, the highest of several posts to be filled through elections at the World Zionist Congress, which opens in Jerusalem Sunday.
Their decision was announced in a letter sent Tuesday by Mendel Kaplan, chairman of the Board of Governors, to Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, leader of the Labor Party. Kaplan urged Peres to “take this into account in order to avoid the indignities of the recent past.”
He was apparently referring to the bitter reaction in the Labor Party and the Labor Zionist movement over the diaspora philanthropists’ unanimous rejection in October of Akiva Lewinsky, the man whom Labor had already chosen as its candidate for the WZO-Jewish Agency chairmanship. Lewinsky dropped out of the race last week amid protests against the “interference” of the overseas Jewish leaders.
Dinitz, 58, a Labor member of the Knesset who served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States from 1973-78 and was a close confidant and political adviser to he late Premier Gold Meir, has not yet been formally nominated by his party.
TWO OTHER LABOR CANDIDATES
There are, in fact, two other contenders seeking the nomination when the Labor Party’s 1,300 member central committee meets Thursday to select a candidate: Mordechai Gur and Nissim Zvilli.
Kaplan stressed in his letter to Peres that “only Simcha Dinitz has received the unanimous consent of our total leadership.” He added that the philanthropists had been “reluctant to participate in the selection process of prospective candidates.
“Your decision to present several candidates has forced our leadership into a comparative analysis, which would have been avoided under previous practice,” Kaplan wrote.
Source close to Peres said Wednesday that he would not comment on Kaplan’s letter, but made it public so that the central committee members could take it into account.
Gur was furious. The former Israel Defense Force chief of staff and former health minister claimed he was being undercut.
He accused the Labor Party leadership of caving in to pressure from Premier Yitzhak Shamir, the Likud leader, who oppose Gur’s nomination. A spokesman for Shamir had “incited” American Jewish leaders against him.
GUR THREATENING TO QUIT
Gur has threatened to quit all of his Labor Party posts. But speculation had it Wednesday that Gur would drop his candidacy before the Labor Party vote took place.
Zvilli, the other Labor candidate, who heads the WZO’s settlement department, accepted the philanthropists’ decision with equanimity. He even commended them for deciding “not to intervene in the legitimate selection process,” adding that “the Zionist movement must now use its own discretion and choose its candidate.”
Zvilli, however, said he still intends to seek the central committee’s nomination.
Kaplan’s letter also aroused the ire of the Likud bloc, which has already chosen Science and Technology Minister Gideon Patt, a member of its Liberal Party wing, as its candidate to head the WZO-Jewish Agency.
LIKUD IS BACKING GIDEON PATT
Member of Likud’s dominant Herut Party wing agreed Wednesday that Patt would remain their candidate for the WZO-Agency post. But they said they would review this decision after Labor selects its candidate.
For Labor and Likud each to present candidates for the chairmanship would be a departure from past practice, when deals were struck in which the party with the most votes at the congress got the chairmanship and the runner-up party got to fill the post of WZO treasurer.
It remains to be seen whether the philanthropists’ move to back Dinitz will defuse the angry backlash that has been building up in Labor Zionist circles over the diaspora leaders’ rejection of Lewinsky.
Yehiel Leket, chairman of the Labor Zionist movement, demanded Tuesday that the present electoral system be abolished in favor of a more democratic one.
He also called for an end to the owner-sharing arrangement between the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, which makes the outcome of WZO elections subject to the “advice and consent” of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors.
According to the advice and consent rule, even if Lewinsky had remained in the race and went on to be elected WZO-Jewish Agency chairman, he could have been vetoed by the overseas philanthropists on the Jewish Agency board, 22 of whom are Americans.
POLICY GONE ‘BANKRUPT’
Leket charged at a news conference in Jerusalem Tuesday that the advice and consent arrangement “has gone bankrupt” and should be abolished. He said the way it was being manipulated yielded results opposite to the original intent.
The process was intended to “strengthen and deepen the partnership” between Israelis and Zionists in the Jewish Agency, on the one hand, and the diaspora leaders, on the other. Instead, Leket said, it is damaging relations and has resulted in “a war of the Jews.”
He recalled that the process was established 16 years ago when then Premier “Golda Meir and Max Fisher used to sit tete-a-tete and agree between themselves on the candidate,” but now times have changed. Fisher, a Detroit industrialist and leading Jewish philanthropist, was the first chairman of the Agency Board of Governors.
“No movement can agree that representatives of the fund-raisers in the United States (as the philanthropists are commonly referred to in Israel) will dictate the election of candidates and interfere in its (WZO’s) election process,” Leket said.
He suggested a democratization of the election process whereby Israelis would participate in the election of American representatives on the Jewish Agency board and vice-versa. The change, Leket said, would depoliticize the Jewish Agency and create a “new dialogue” between the Zionists and the philanthropists.