In what may be a sign of the slowly growing demographic and organizational influence of Orthodox Jewry in the Diaspora, the World Zionist Organization on Tuesday elected its first-ever chairman from the modern-Orthodox “Mizrahi” camp.
Avraham Duvdevani, 65, takes on a position first occupied by Theodor Herzl himself, who founded the organization at the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897.
Duvdevani is a decades-long veteran of the Zionist movement, having
served as head of the WZO’s Settlement Division, co-chairman of the
board of the Jewish National Fund and a member of the Jewish Agency’s
Executive, among other duties.
Duvdevani is also the very first person to take on the top spot in the
Zionist organization after it was split from the chairmanship of the
Jewish Agency, a post held by former deputy prime minister Natan
Duvdevani follows in the footsteps of his father, Baruch, who served as
director of the Jewish Agency’s Immigration and Absorption Department
until 1967.Orthodox comprise over a quarter of Zionist Congress delegates
The Orthodox parties comprise over a quarter of the delegates to the
quadrennial Zionist Congress, largely because at the last election to
the Zionist General Council, held in 2006 in Jewish communities
throughout the world, Orthodox organizations such as the US-based OU and
others organized to encourage their constituency to cast their votes.
It is a sign, according to observers at the Congress, of modern
Orthodoxy’s growing significance in the Jewish world, even as modern
Orthodox political forces within Israel have become marginalized after
failing for years to convince voters from that sector to vote according
to religious affiliation.
“All other political [factions], whether Likud, Kadima or others, draw
from their Israeli electoral showing to give them strength [in the
WZO],” Duvdevani told the Post shortly after his victory. “But for us,
the significant numbers come from overseas.”
But Duvdevani attributes his victory to another factor: the growing
acceptance of modern Orthodox leaders in Israeli public life. “Israelis
are now used to seeing religious-Zionists in meaningful positions of
influence, whether in government, the army, education. It’s not strange
to them anymore.”
The elections also gave away other significant positions in important
Duvdevani will share the leadership of the WZO with a new deputy
chairman, the Conservative movement’s Dr. David Breakstone. His ascent
to the position, after serving as head of the Department for Zionist
Activities, marks the highest position yet reached by an oleh within the
The active Settlement Division of the WZO will be headed by former MK
Zvi Hendel, who represents the same Orthodox factions as Duvdevani.
The hotly contested chairmanship of the Jewish National Fund will go to a
Labor Party representative, though Labor’s own internal battle over the
position means that no specific name can yet be attached to the
position. Sources in the party believe the final candidate will be
Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon.
Kadima caused some surprise during the elections by appointing MK Eli
Aflalo to be the more junior co-chairman of the board of directors of
JNF alongside the Labor candidate.
Similarly, the deputy chairmanship of the Jewish Agency, who will serve
under Sharansky, will go to the Meretz candidate Rany Trainin. The role
has to be approved by the Jewish Agency before going into effect.
The chairmanship of Keren Hayesod, the fundraising arm of the Zionist
movement in Diaspora communities, has been given to the Likud, but no
specific candidate has yet been named.