Efi Stenzler, mayor of Givatayim for the past 13 years, says his proudest achievement has been to improve the city's level of education and its quality of life without compromising on the tradition and history of one of the country's oldest communities.
He believes it is these accomplishments that, according to sources in the Jewish world, make him the leading candidate to become the next chairman of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund. Elections are to be held Sunday at the annual meeting of the World Labor Zionist Movement, one day ahead of the 31st Zionist Congress at Jerusalem's International Convention Center.
"All my life I have been committed to serving my people, first as a youth leader, then as an officer in the army, then as a leader in the Labor Party and now as mayor for the last 13 years," said Stenzler in an interview with The Jerusalem Post> Thursday. "I have achieved much for my city and for the people of Israel and I believe I can do the same for the KKL-JNF. I am sure I can meet the challenges and strengthen the organization."
Stenzler's bid, the sources said, is supported by much of the Labor Party's leadership, including party chairman Amir Peretz, ministers Isaac Herzog, Yuli Tamir and Ophir Paz-Pines, and leading MK Ami Ayalon. As part of the power-sharing of national institutions, KKL-JNF is under the authority of the Labor Party. The chairmanship, along with the post of chairman of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, is one of the most influential national institution roles.
Stenzler's challengers are Nahum Itzkowitz, former chairman of the Emek Hefer Regional Council, who is being supported by the Moshav and Kibbutz movement, and Arik Hadad, mayor of Kiryat Ekron, whose support comes from Binyamin Ben-Eliezer.
"The KKL-JNF speaks to every Jew," said Stenzler. "For children it is the mystery of the forest and the trees, for youth it is the excitement of nature, for young adults it is a better life and world and for adults it is filled with the history and the tradition of belonging."
"From my point of view, a strong KKL-JNF means a strong future for global Jewry and a strong Labor Zionist movement," continued Stenzler, who is also cochair of the Jewish Agency's absorption subcommittee and has been involved with B'nai B'rith Youth Organization (BBYO) for the past 20 years. "The JNF is one of the most important symbols connected with the birth of the modern state of Israel. Through the JNF we made this desert country green and the economy thrive."
Outgoing chairman Yehiel Leket, who has served KKL-JNF for the past eight years, told the Post Thursday that he had "a personal policy not to exceed eight years in a public position... I believe it is unhealthy for the institution and for the person."
Leket said his greatest achievement in the post was in making KKL-JNF - which was established in 1901 at the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel - an organization of modern relevance. "Instead of solely being a developer, the JNF has also become a protector of nature," he said.
Leket explained that, while the KKL-JNF continued to develop the land - it currently owns 13% of the land of Israel - especially in peripheral areas, the biggest challenge facing environmental groups today was conservation of the land and preservation of the country's water system.
During his term as chairman, Leket said, the KKL-JNF "has increased water capacity in Israel by 7-8 percent." He also said that the organization's new internal structure had seen a rise in employment and its financial recovery plan had tackled a massive budget deficit. "We have a strong organization with more than 4,500 ongoing projects around the country," said Leket, highlighting that developing the Negev was the focus of 2006.