New JNF Chief Daniel Atar: 'Era of Transparency Is Beginning'

Zionist Union MK, slammed by the state comptroller for excessive spending while serving as regional council head, vows to restore faith in the nonprofit – and himself.

Eyal Toueg

MK Daniel Atar (Zionist Union) was elected at a Labor Party convention on Monday evening as the new chairman of the Jewish National Fund, having garnered 683 votes. His victory is also an achievement for Isaac Herzog, chairman of Labor (which merged with Hatnuah before the last election to form Zionist Union), since Michael Biton, the candidate supported by Herzog rival Shelly Yacimovich, received 445 votes.

Efi Stenzler, the outgoing chairman of the nonprofit organization, received 333 votes.

Following his victory, Atar issued a statement saying, “Labor’s members have sent me to represent them and the values of the Labor movement in the JNF and I thank them for that I am conscious of the importance of the mission of restoring the public’s faith in the JNF, of replacing cynicism with Zionism and working on behalf of Israel and its citizens.

"Today the JNF begins a new era. An era of transparency, of trust, and of commitment to the public and to proper administration. I am very grateful to the hundreds of party members who dedicated themselves over the last days to achieving the chance we all want. I promise not to disappoint them.”

The battle between the main candidates, Atar and Biton, was also something of a promo for the Labor primary, where Herzog will vie for party leadership against Yacimovich and Amir Peretz. The vote is expected to take place in 2016.

In May, Channel 10 reported on a trip by Atar to Germany as the head of the Gilboa Regional Council, during his last days in that post and just a few days before his Knesset swearing-in. The official reason given for the trip was to bid farewell to a local governor; the TV item, however, featured footage of Atar and five other council employees visiting a casino and shopping malls. Atar said the trip was funded by his German hosts and that he had not been involved in council affairs for more than a month and a half by that point.

In two separate reports, the State Comptroller found that under Atar’s tenure at the council there were surplus outlays linked to the purchase of vehicles, to vacation days given to senior officials, to reimbursements for job-related expenses, and to purchase of refreshments for visitors to the council's offices.

As new JNF chair, Atar will have to resign from the Knesset. His place will be taken by Yael Cohen-Paran of Hatnuah. But Labor will continue to receive the same amount of party funding, of about NIS 68,000 per month, based on its membership in the parliament.