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(photo credit: AVI KATZ)
Dan Diker couldn’t have chosen a more consequential time to start his tenure as the new secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress. With the ongoing tumult in the Arab world and the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations in September there are a lot of issues to deal with. During an interview last Thursday, the loquacious Diker laid out his organization’s busy agenda over the next couple of months and explained why events happening in the region affect the entire world.
“The relative stability or instability of the Middle East will radiate throughout the world,” he said. “It obviously affects vital Western interests, Europe, the US, and insofar as Jewish communities are central to the vitality of the world scene, it will also affect the Jewish world.
“We don’t know whether this [Arab] Spring will become a freezing winter or blazing summer. We don’t know if it will become a more free and democratic Middle East in the sense of [Jewish Agency Chairman] Natan Sharansky and his understanding of freedom and nations, or will it become a stronger foothold for the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Diker’s name may ring a bell to people in Anglo circles. Before he was elected to his new position, the 50-year-old Israeli-American worked as a political analyst at a Jerusalem think-tank and as a journalist with Channel 1 for years.
When Diker’s name was raised as one of the potential candidates to replace veteran Jewish official Michael Schneider as secretary- general at the WJC, some feared his politics might be too right of center for the job.
During his interview last week he certainly didn’t let Palestinian leadership off the hook. He said he was adamantly opposed to their “dangerous, irresponsible and high risk... unilateral gambit for statehood" and said his organization was applying pressure on the 15 states of the Security Council to abstain from the proposition, should it be raised at the UN.
Asked if Israel and the Jewish establishment weren’t wasting their energies by throwing everything they had against the declaration of a Palestinian state while not offering their own peace initiative, Diker pinned the blame on the other side.
“I would ask the Palestinians that question because it’s been the Palestinians since 2009, before the Netanyahu coalition, that began to talk about the Kosovo strategy,” he said. “It was the Palestinians towards the end of the failed Annapolis peace plan.
Israel was a player in each process, and made deeper concessions. The Palestinian leadership made a strategic decision months before Netanyahu won the premiership to go unilateral.”
One might say Diker and the WJC are merely toeing the line set out by the government, but when asked if he would be supportive of a government headed by a left-wing party openly advocating a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed territorial swaps Diker promptly stressed that "the WJC, as a matter of policy, supports whichever government" is in power in Israel. At the same time, he stressed the WJC's commitment to "certain principles of securing Jewish life," including "defensible borders" for Israel.
No less than three of the group’s senior leaders – WJC president Ron Lauder, European Jewish Congress head Moshe Kantor and Euro-Asian Jewish Congress Alexander Machkevich – are billionaires.
Does money buy the mandate to lead the Jewish people? “It is very challenging today to raise money for important political, diplomatic, social, cultural and economic work,” he said. “We all know competition for the Jewish dollar is enormous. What happens is that a lot of times you will find leaders like Kantor, Machkevich and president Lauder who have a profound belief and vision for the Jewish people and are fortunate enough to have the resources in order to direct those visions. That’s something that is very welcome and important because it allows their leadership and vision to be implemented without falling down, financially, and being unable to move the ball forward.”