Averting Crisis, Compromise Reached on Top Jobs at Zionist Institutions

Agreement over allocation of senior positions in World Zionist Organization and its affiliates prevented deepening wedge between Israel and Diaspora

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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The 35th World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, June 22, 2006.
The 35th World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, June 22, 2006.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

A crisis that threatened to drive a deep wedge between Israel and the Diaspora Jewish communities was averted on Thursday evening, after a compromise was reached allowing the non-Orthodox movements and center-left parties to retain some influence in the key Zionist institutions.

This agreement over the allocation of senior positions in the World Zionist Organization and its affiliate organizations – the Jewish Agency, United Israel Appeal and the Jewish National Fund – was reached after three intensive days of negotiations among the various delegations to the World Zionist Congress, which met this week.

A preliminary agreement, drafted over the weekend by the right-wing and rigidly Orthodox parties that hold a slight majority in the current congress, sought to deprive the non-Orthodox movements and center-left parties of almost all positions of power in the Zionist institutions.

But the delegations to the congress came under intense pressure from prominent Zionist organizations outside Israel as well as leading figures in the non-Orthodox movements to revise it or risk a major split in the Jewish world

The amended agreement was expected to pass easily in a vote scheduled to be held on Thursday night.

Among the concessions to the progressive parties and movements: 

  • A woman from Yesh Atid, the centrist party, will be appointed as president of the Zionist Movement, which falls under the auspices of the WZO. 
  • The position of head of the education department at the Jewish National Fund will be rotated between Eretz Kadosh – a brand new, ultra-Orthodox party based in the United States – and centrist Kahol Lavan, and not be held exclusively by the former, as originally proposed.
  • The position of vice chairman of the WZO will be assigned to a leading representative of Conservative Judaism – Yizhar Hess, who will be leaving his position as executive director of the movement in Israel to assume this new role.
  •  The position of deputy chairman of the Jewish Agency will be assigned to a yet unnamed representative of the Reform movement. 
  • The position of chairman of the finance committee of the JNF will be handed over from Likud to Yesh Atid.
  • The composition of the executive boards of the WZO and its affiliates will reflect the breakdown of delegates in the congress, giving right-wing and religious parties a slight majority of seats on these boards, but not an overwhelming majority, as originally proposed.
  • Three new departments to be created in the WZO will be headed by representatives of the center-left and non-Orthodox movements: A representative of Meretz will head a new division devoted to social justice, a representative of the Reform movement will head a new division focused on outreach to Israelis living in the Diaspora, and a representative of Labor will head a new division devoted to Jewish culture

Under the terms of both the original and the revised agreements, the top job at the Jewish National Fund, the most powerful of the Zionist institutions, will be rotated between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and a coalition of Modern Orthodox parties. For the past five years, the position had been filled by a Labor Party appointee.

The Jewish National Fund controls billions of dollars’ worth of land in Israel and is active in forestry, water and tourism projects. Avraham Duvdevani, a member of the religious Zionist Mizrahi movement and the current chairman of the WZO, will hold the position of JNF chairman for two years, and Likud Knesset member Haim Katz will hold it for three years. Katz was forced to resign his position as a cabinet minister last year following his indictment on charges of fraud and breach of trust.

Under the terms of both the original and the revised agreements, a representative of Likud, Yaakov Hagoel, will serve as chairman of the WZO, and a yet-unnamed representative of Kahol Lavan will serve as chairperson of Keren Hayesod.

Among the 521 delegate casting their votes at the Zionist congress, a narrow majority of 269 delegates are affiliated with theright-wing and religious parties.

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