Intelligence Affairs Minister Elazar Stern’s shameful remarks about shredding sexual harassment complaints when he was the commander of the IDF Manpower Directorate not only made it clear that he is unfit to serve in high public office, they also shined a light on the organization he sought to lead, the Jewish Agency. The process of choosing a new Agency chairman is stuck as a result, and should remain so. It is a superfluous organization that should cease to exist.
The Jewish Agency, the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish National Fund-KKL and Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal played a critical role in building the Yishuv, the Jewish community in the Land of Israel, operating as a quasi-government for the nascent state. After the state was founded they were no longer needed, and should have been subsumed into the ministries of the new government. Instead, successive Israeli governments preferred to preserve these “national institutions” and entrusted them with state functions.
In practice these agencies became a source of waste and corruption, and of jobs for failed politicians and their associates (such as a son of Shas leader Arye Dery, who was recently appointed a WZO department chair). They are also used as subcontractors for political operations with which the government seeks to avoid official affiliation, such as funding construction in the settlements and reserving state lands for Jews only. And all of this far from the eyes of the state comptroller.
There is no need for these agencies. Promoting Jewish immigration and relations with the Diaspora, which are the Jewish Agency’s responsibilities, are already handled by the relevant government ministries. Today there is no need for a dedicated agency for this purpose, when there are plenty of options available to any Jew living abroad who wants to connect with Israel. The artificial distinction between state land and “JNF land” should be eliminated in order to provide land for residential construction and development for all Israelis. Israel’s economy is strong enough that it doesn’t need to rely on the generosity of Diaspora Jews to fill the United Jewish Appeal’s slush fund.
By withdrawing his candidacy, Stern spared himself great embarrassment, but the appointment of some other politician, even one who is more worthy of the position, will do nothing to improve the shaky relations between Israel and Jewish communities around the world.
Closing the Jewish Agency and the other agencies that worked to fulfill the Zionist vision and establish the state will serve their purpose much better than their continued existence will.