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Former Aipac Director to Take Helm of San Francisco Federation

July 29, 2005
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In 1992, the San Francisco Giants filled a hole in left field by signing a man named Barry Bonds. In 2005, the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation filled a hole in its chief executive’s office by signing a man named Tom Dine. An ill-fitting comparison, you say? Perhaps it is. After all, when Bonds came to San Francisco, no one in his or her right mind was anticipating a 73-home run season. But federation executives, lay leaders and myriad members of the Jewish community are fully expecting huge, even historic, achievements from Dine.

And so is he.

“If you don’t raise the bar and it’s too easy to jump over, you’re not living up to your potential,” said Dine, 65, best known as the executive who built the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, into a powerhouse, largely during the Reagan era.

Dine, who has lived in Prague for the last eight years as the president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, will officially take over at the federation in November.

Without the benefit of serious financial analysis, Dine confidently told members of the federation’s search committee that he could augment its fund-raising numbers by 10 percent in each of his first three years at the helm, and 15 percent in years four and five.

These numbers, he said, are “intuitive” and “sound right.”

When it comes to fund raising, he said, “this community has fallen behind. It has not kept pace with itself and with its potential.”

While the federation’s annual fund-raising haul has hovered in the millions — between the high teens and low 20s — for the past 15 years, the number of donors has slid from a high of roughly 18,000 to fewer than 12,000.

With that in mind, Dine, who will start work in November, believes he and the federation have “our work cut out for us to get back to ‘Go.’ ” Simply put, if Boston’s federation can raise $32 million, why can’t the Bay Area’s? Why not more?

Dine’s comments are on par with the reputation he has picked up over the past quarter-century for being an energetic, aggressive and change-oriented executive. And while he is not yet prepared to go into specifics, it is obvious that Dine has no plans to be a steward of the status quo at the federation, but rather the architect of “big changes.”

“I think strong leadership is what any good organization wants. And I think the stronger your constituency, the more able you are to tolerate a strong leader,” said Phyllis Cook, the director of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund and the acting CEO of the federation since Sam Salkin’s departure in February of last year.

Dick Rosenberg, the chairman of the federation’s search committee, predicts Dine “will have a national impact on the federation movement. This is a federation that can institute change.”

Dine said he must “familiarize himself” with the inner workings of the federation before drawing up a game plan on how he’d like to make over the organization.

The first thing the federation must do, Dine says, is settle upon a raison d’etre and revamp itself toward attaining it.

He will ensure that the federation under his watch will keep an active hand in funding social services, but those services — and, indeed, every organization accepting money from the federation — must prove to be “productive.”

The bespectacled Dine is a trim, active, gray-haired man who runs every day — “well, almost every day.” A married father of two grown daughters, he describes himself as “result-oriented” and “cost-effective.”

If his track record holds, there’ll be plenty of changes.

When Dine took the reins of AIPAC in 1980, the organization had 24 employees, 8,000 members and a budget of $1.7 million. When he departed 13 years later, after numerous Oval Office meetings with several U.S. presidents, those numbers had swelled to 158 employees, 55,000 members and a budget of $15 million.

At Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty since 1997, Dine has expanded broadcasts into 28 languages and made a major effort to bring a Western-style free press into predominantly Muslim nations in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The U.S.-funded news service promoting democracy currently broadcasts in 18 languages spoken in predominantly Muslim countries in the Balkans, Mideast or elsewhere.

Dine’s efforts to push for a free and aggressive press in European and Middle Eastern dictatorships have led to confrontational incidents with several of the world’s autocrats. Dine accuses Russian agents of kidnaping one of his reporters in Chechnya and holding him for five weeks before hurling him out of an automobile trunk in Dagestan.

In a hard-hitting May 2004 speech, Dine referred to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko as a “psychopath”; described the government of Ukraine as “an embarrassment”; and characterized the governments of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan as “a post-Soviet version of ‘The Sopranos’ ” and “Mafia states.”

Why would Dine give up the good fight against dictators and religious fanatics?

“I’ve done that. I’ve done it for eight years. And it’s a grind,” he admitted.

“Look, I know it’s a big world,” he said. “But I want to have a smaller one. I want to blow on the small end of the shofar and make sure the outcome is loud and well-heard.”

Dine’s ties to the Bay Area go back several decades. With the encouragement of his old friend Rabbi Brian Lurie, the federation’s longtime former director, Dine chose San Francisco as the home of AIPAC’s first regional office in 1983. AIPAC now boasts 10 regional offices.

“At this time in my life, I want to return to the United States. And San Francisco is the city I always wanted to live in. The closest I got to living in northern California was three months as a Peace Corps trainee at San Jose State,” said Dine, who taught in the Philippines from 1962 to 1964.

“The most important point about San Francisco is the Jewish community. I’ve known it, I’ve known so many people over the years. I’ve known the Jewish Community Relations Council. I’ve known the federation, and I’ve admired it.”

Perhaps the darkest moment in Dine’s public life came with his departure from AIPAC in 1993.

In that year, Dine was quoted in a book written by the Israeli journalist David Landau as saying, “I don’t think mainstream Jews feel very comfortable with the ultra-Orthodox. It’s a class thing, I suppose. Their image is — smelly.” Shortly thereafter, AIPAC’s board forced Dine to resign.

At the time, AIPAC’s then-president, Steven Grossman, said Dine’s comments were “so divisive and polarizing that they undercut his ability to lead.”

Still, many saw the move as an internal AIPAC power struggle, with Dine, the popular public face of the pro-Israel lobby, being pushed aside by influential lay leaders.

“Dine fell victim to the intrusive micromanagement of a group of wealthy senior AIPAC officers who resented his public following and independence,” wrote Peter Beinart and Hanna Rosin in a September 1993 article in The New Republic magazine.

Orthodox leaders were stunned at the time, with many stating that they never asked for nor expected Dine’s resignation. Dine said then that the comments were meant to describe perceptions in the Jewish community and were not his personal beliefs.

Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and an Orthodox Jew, said Dine’s comments are old news.

“He apologized for the comments,” Hoenlein said. “And even if he did say it, people say things. Everyone makes mistakes. He corrected it.”

Dine refused to discuss his controversial exit from AIPAC.

“To tell you the truth, my 13 years there were terrific. I’m not going to get into that. Things occur, that’s the way it is,” he said.

“I walked out the door, landed on my own two feet and was asked by the White House to join the administration.”

Dine was confirmed by the Senate and served as an assistant administrator with the U.S. Agency for International Development, overseeing Europe and Eurasia. It was a natural transition into his Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty post.

His job with the San Francisco federation will be his first foray back into the organized Jewish community in a dozen years.

“I’m setting my goals quite high,” he said. “I hope I succeed.”

Many here are counting on it.

“I’m convinced that if you look back five or 10 years from this time, you’ll say this is a turning point,” said his friend Lurie.

“By finding Tom, they did such a mitzvah for the community.”

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