In Surprise Appointment, Netanyahu Critic Gets Top Job at Keren Hayesod

Polly Bronstein’s appointment in one of the main fundraising organizations for the Jewish state was met with great surprise in the Jewish organizational world and with concerns in right-wing circles

Polly Bronstein
Polly Bronstein - Facebook

Polly Bronstein, a social activist known as an outspoken critic of the current Israeli government, has been appointed chief executive officer of Keren Hayesod – United Israel Appeal, one of the main fundraising organizations for the Jewish state. She will be the first woman to ever hold this position.

Bronstein, 45, was the founder and former director of Darkenu, a grassroots movement that describes itself as representing the “moderate majority” in Israel. The movement, which supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinians conflict, organized a huge online demonstration Saturday night against what it described as government attempts to undermine democracy during the coronavirus crisis. Organizers said that 500,000 Israelis tuned into the event, which was livestreamed on Facebook.

Given her oppositionist background, Bronstein’s appointment, announced over the weekend, was met with great surprise in the Jewish organizational world and with concerns in right-wing circles.

Sam Grundwerg, the world chairman of Keren Hayesod and a member of the selection committee, is considered to be close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, raising eyebrows even further. Typically, senior appointments at the major Zionist organizations are made in consultation with the prime minister.

Bronstein, whose appointment takes effect in June, will replace Greg Maisel, who held the top professional position at Keren Hayesod for 15 years.

Darkenu evolved out of another grassroots movement known as V-15, which was founded before the 2015 election and was active in bringing out the center-left vote. Before she founded Darkenu, Bronstein served as director of the international department of the Israeli Scouts, and prior to that, as head of Atid, an international partnership of pluralist Jewish youth movements in Israel, the United States and Britain, and as head of the Jewish Agency’s delegation to Britain.

Announcing the appointment on her Facebook page, Bronstein wrote: “After six years of concentrating on Israel from the inside, I am back to looking outside and to [promoting] Israel’s ties with Jewish communities abroad. Much has changed since I returned from my job as an envoy in Britain six years ago. I plan to learn about trends and challenges and to try – together with my impressive partners in the Keren’s leadership – to adapt the organization to the next 100 years, and first and foremost, to become key partners in the rehabilitation that will be required in the Jewish world and in Israel in the day after the coronavirus crisis."

Keren Hayesod, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, operates in Jewish communities around the world outside the United States. It has representatives in 40 countries.