(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
Labor Party convention delegates and the party’s delegation to the World Jewish Congress are to vote Monday night for the next chairman of the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, the Israeli arm of the Jewish National Fund.
KKL-JNF chairman Efi Stenzler, who is seeking a third term in office, received endorsements over the weekend from presidents of the JNF in more than 30 countries. He is being challenged by Mk Dani Atar of Zionist Union and by Michael Biton, mayor of the Negev town Yeroham.
Former MK Nachman Shai quit the race late Sunday evening, complaining about the system electing the KKL leader.
“I received the KKL with severe economic problems and bad relations with its branches abroad,” Stenzler said. “I more than doubled the number of countries with branches from 21 to 48. Its economic situation is now terrific thanks to my cost-cutting. We are now the world’s leading Zionist organization.
I am proud of what I accomplished, together with my staff and board.”
The JNF presidents from around the world said that thanks to Stenzler, the KKL’s budget was growing from year to year, and it had doubled since he took the reins. KKL is now operating in new fields like ecology, agriculture, water and fighting against the delegitimization of Israel around the world, they added.
“JNF activities show in every corner of Israel and our donors highly appreciate this,” the presidents said. “Today KKLJNF is facing many challenges, primarily putting in order the relationship with the Israeli government. We feel certain, that only the experienced and skilled hands of Mr. Stenzler will be able to navigate KKLJNF on the road of success and to support the interests of the Zionist Movement.”
Criticizing his opponents, Stenzler said that running KKLJNF is more complicated that running a small community, as Biton and Atar, have, and serving as a spokesman, as Shai has.
Shai said he had the most experience of any candidate running nonprofit organizations in Israel and around the world before bowing out late Sunday evening.
Atar indicated that he was running because he wanted to advance himself politically and to use JNF to increase dialogue between Jews and Arabs in Israel. As head of the Ma’aleh Gilboa Regional Council, Atar started a partnership with the nearby Arab city Jenin that encouraged Jews in the US to contribute to economically disadvantaged Palestinians.
“From my standpoint, as someone who wanted to be in the Knesset, the role of a leader is always to look to have the most possible impact on Israeli society, and in this case, also the Jewish world,” Atar said. “A month-and-a-half ago, the top echelon of Labor asked me to run. I decided to run, because it’s an extraordinary opportunity to spread Labor’s ideology around the world.”
Atar, who was the only candidate who refused to interview in English, said he wanted KKLJNF to deal more with the housing shortage and to invest more in Israeli youth groups. He said he would focus his attention overseas on fighting attempts to boycott Israel and encouraging youth exchanges with Israel.
He said he believed two terms was enough and plenty in the organization needed to be repaired. Regarding Biton’s proposal to run KKL-JNF as a part time volunteer while remaining Yeroham mayor, he said that would spoil Labor’s only chance to run a Zionist organization.
Biton said he wanted to head KKL-JNF because it is an important organization that has not been run well. He said he had experience with overseas groups, because he was the strategic director of Jewish Federations of Canada-United Israel Appeal, headed the Beersheba region in the Jewish Agency and oversaw Yeroham’s partnership with the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.
“There has been a tremendous waste of resources in KKL,” he said. “KKL needs a new approach, with full transparency.
We need to maintain what has gone well and fix what has gone bad.”
Stenzler, who faced criticism for past corruption in the organization, said it had become more transparent than in the past with external oversight by the State Comptroller’s Office.
“In the next four years, we will continue to color Israel in green and expand our partnerships around the world,” Stenzler said.