Telfed Must Reconcile After Election Fight, Members Say?

It was announced last week that none of the four candidates accused of trying to politicize the organization had been voted onto the executive of the Israel branch of the South African Zionist Federation, known as Telfed.

It was announced last week that none of the four candidates accused of trying to politicize the organization had been voted onto the executive of the Israel branch of the South African Zionist Federation, known as Telfed. Six other candidates, who issued a statement during the campaign declaring they stood on no political platform, were elected and are set to attend the new executive's first meeting on Sunday. They are Arnie Friedman, Ron Lapid, Toni Milliner, Jack Trappler, Marcelle Weiss and Michelle Wolff.

"[The winners] canvassed effectively and were democratically elected. I welcome them," said Maish Isaacson, Telfed's new chairman, who narrowly won his position in an election last month.

The controversy over the election for the 21-member executive was sparked when an e-mail signed by four candidates previously uninvolved in Telfed was circulated, calling on former Southern Africans in Israel to "vote Bnei Akiva [a religious-Zionist youth movement]" to "ensure a stronger religious-Zionist agenda in Telfed." Though the candidates - Dori Braudie, Jonny Klompas, Ilan Osrin and Ezra Sieff - later issued a second e-mail denying any political agenda, fears of an attempted putsch were not laid to rest.

The vote can be viewed as a resounding rejection of perceived efforts to transform Telfed into a religious organization, but discontent remains among some Telfed members who feel their involvement in the organization is being marginalized. Some criticism has been directed at new chairman Isaacson, who originally issued a statement together with his vice-chairs condemning efforts to promote a "special interest group," but later told Anglo File he saw the e-mail as "mere electioneering." His comments were denounced as an attempt to downplay an attempted takeover.

A resolute Isaacson told Anglo File this week: "I think the organization is strong and powerful and far bigger than any individual. The turmoil [should now be seen] as merely a storm in a tea cup. I don't believe any of the so-called problems will affect the running of the organization whatsoever. I know that people have mentioned factions and splits, but I think we can move on as we've all got the same goals and aims - to assist people in the community who need our assistance."

He denied that the results could be viewed as a rap on the knuckles for the organization's leadership.

Isaacson said he was aware that his moves were being scrutinized, particularly with regard to shaping the composition of the new 21-member executive, which has co-opted and appointed positions in addition to the six places that were decided by election. "Once a person is in a public position, people who supported him want to make sure their decision was justified, just as others will for look for reasons to justify why they didn't support him," he said this week.

One former South African familiar with the organization commented this week that the leadership will have to work hard to rebuild the trust and harmony in Telfed that was damaged during the election campaign. "This is no small task," he added.

"This was no naive ploy," said another veteran South African immigrant. "This is an ongoing battle with the Mafdalnikim and Mizrachi [two religious-Zionist parties -C.H.] trying to take over Telfed and get rid of everyone who is not modern Orthodox, especially those they view as raving leftists. Why has Telfed become political only now? Because they believe there are enough young immigrants who are modern Orthodox so now they can have a takeover." The source, who insisted on anonymity, linked the move to the shift toward greater religiosity in the Jewish community in South Africa in recent years.

Solly Sacks, a former Telfed chairman who is director general of the World Mizrachi organization and who some suggest is behind efforts to politicize Telfed, flatly denied any involvement.

"I had nothing to do with it. What, suddenly religious people are not allowed to get involved with Telfed? What's all the fuss about? This is about a group of people who want to hold on to their power and a bunch of young people who are trying to get involved, and it's seen as a major challenge. What was so tragic about the e-mail? There's obviously something personal going on."

Nevertheless, Sacks says he hopes that in the next elections in two years' time, the executive will include more religious representatives, in line with the South African Zionist Federation in South Africa. "We lost, we'll try again," he said, adding: "I don't think these youngsters are trying to change the flavor of Telfed, but 80 percent of families coming on aliyah from South Africa are religious, as are 50 percent of singles. These youngsters would work very hard for the non-religious too."

But for now, said Sacks, it's time to get on with the job. "We've got immigrants to look after, there's work to be done. Immigrants are not on hold because these people are choosing to carry on the fight. People should stop complaining to Maish [Isaacson]. He's young and very dynamic and I'm sure he'll be a great asset to Telfed. Telfed has to continue with its excellent and valuable work."

One of the newly elected executive members, Arnie Friedman of Kibbutz Yizreel, certainly agrees on this last point. "I want to help all new immigrants, especially those in the north of the country," he told Anglo File.