Ahead of possible elections for Keren Kayemet Leyisrael (KKL) chairman later this month, current chairman Efi Stenzler laid out his achievements as head of the green Zionist organization over the past four years.
“When I took over, KKL was feuding with overseas Jewish National Fund (JNF) branches. The organization was also selling off land and buildings to fund its efforts, Stenzler told The Jerusalem Post this week.
“In the last four years, we’ve developed a good working relationship once again with all of the JNF delegations around the world. And at a time when charitable donations are dropping all over the world because of the financial crisis, donations to KKL have risen and continue to rise every year,” he said.
Stenzler cited an unprecedented NIS 600 million annual budget and NIS 1.5 billion in the bank, as well as an organizational efficiency effort which saw a 25% reduction in staff through voluntary retirements, as some of his accomplishments on the financial side.
Moreover, to ensure more transparency for donors, KKL has instituted a computerized system which tracks every stage of a project and all its costs, so a donor knows exactly where the donation has gone, Stenzler said.
KKL, a “Jewish, Zionist, green” organization, as Stenzler characterized it, runs 1,000 projects in Israel a year – more than any other organization, he said. From encouraging settlement in the State of Israel, to reservoirs, to tree plantings, to bike paths, to educational efforts to safeguarding 2.25 million dunams of land, the organization is active from north to south.
“During my tenure, we adopted the ‘plant a tree for every citizen of Israel’ idea. This past Tu Bishvat, we planted one million trees. That’s a new record. We’ll continue until we reach seven million. The next step is to plant a tree for every Jew in the world,” he told the Post
KKL has also built 30 reservoirs, each with a capacity of about one million cubic meters, to store treated wastewater for agricultural use. The reservoirs enable the farmers to use the water when they need it, rather than have the wastewater run off into the sea. More reservoirs are to be built, Stenzler said.
Under Stenzler’s direction, a strategic plan was created last year looking ahead to the next 10 years. Among the premier projects is the Beersheba Stream Park, which will become the largest park in the country. Supported by JNF-US, the stream itself will be rehabilitated as the centerpiece – no water runs in it now. A promenade has already been built.
Stenzler also noted that KKL had just finished constructing a memorial to the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which was erected in the Arazim Valley near the entrance to Jerusalem with the support of JNF-US.
While Stenzler is confident of his accomplishments, he faces an uphill battle to retain his position as chairman for another term. According to the government coalition agreement, the Labor Party, of which Stenzler is a member, was given chairmanship of KKL. However, Labor Party head Ehud Barak reportedly prefers appointing the next chairman instead of electing him. Furthermore, according to reports, Barak’s preferred candidate for the position is Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon and not Stenzler.
Four years ago, Stenzler ran in democratic elections for KKL chairman.
Stenzler said he had appealed to the courts, at his own expense, to order democratic elections.
“The Labor Party has a long history of democratic elections, unlike some other political parties. It is inconceivable that the party would want to do away with democratic elections for KKL chairman,” Stenzler contended angrily.
Stenzler lashed out at what he saw was a non-democratic procedure to replace him with Simhon.
“Barak appointed Simhon to head the committee which chose the delegates to the World Zionist Organization’s Zionist Congress. He’s also the faction chairman and chairman of the Labor Party committee which approves the party constitution.
“According to that constitution, three months after the constitution has been approved, the committee needs to decide on the mechanism for deciding the chairman of KKL. That mechanism hasn’t been decided upon yet [even though three months have already passed],” Stenzler said.
In effect, according to Stenzler, Simhon had set up all of the mechanisms for appointing a new KKL chairman and then decided to run himself for the position.
Sources close to Simhon told the Post
this week that “the matter of deciding whether to appoint or elect the KKL chairman has not been decided yet. It is not even clear that Labor will get to keep the position, so all of this politicking is really pointless.”
Nevertheless, the two sides have traded allegations about misuse of
personnel and their organizations’ resources in an indication of how
heated the debate has become.
While Labor ostensibly gets to choose the candidate for the next KKL
chairman, the Zionist Congress of the World Zionist Organization (WZO)
must actually elect the next KKL chairman. The congress is convening in
mid-June to elect a new WZO chairman as well as other positions, such
as KKL chairman.
Looking to the future, if elected, Stenzler pledged to continue to make
KKL the largest “Jewish, Zionist, green” organization in the world and
a “bridge” between Israel and the Diaspora.
“I see myself as an emissary of the Jewish people at KKL. As Herzl
said, the Jewish nation won’t just be the founders, they’ll also be the
owners of the land through KKL. Our job is to protect the assets of the
Jewish people, to develop the land, to worry about its environment, so
that anyone who wants to come and live here in the future will know
that he has a place in a high quality, better and greener state.”