(photo credit: .)
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”
Avraham Duvdevani, 65, takes on a position first occupied by
Theodor Herzl, 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 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 Sharansky.
Duvdevani follows in the footsteps of his
father, Baruch, who served as director of the Jewish Agency’s Immigration and
Absorption Department until 1967.
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
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
“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,
It’s not strange to them anymore.”
The elections also
assigned other significant positions in important Zionist
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 WZO.
active Settlement Division of the WZO will be headed by former MK Zvi
who represents the same Orthodox factions as Duvdevani.
contested chairmanship of the Jewish National Fund will go to a Labor
representative, though Labor’s own internal battle over the position
no specific name can yet be attached to the position. Sources in the
believe the final candidate will be Agriculture Minister Shalom
Kadima caused some surprise during the elections by appointing MK
Eli Aflalo to be the more junior cochairman of the board of directors of
alongside the Labor candidate.
Similarly, the deputy chairmanship of the
Jewish Agency, who will serve under Sharansky, will go to the Meretz
Rany Trainin. The role has to be approved by the Jewish Agency before
The chairmanship of Keren Hayesod, the fundraising arm of the
Zionist movement in Diaspora communities, has been given to the Likud,