The race for chairman of KKL-JNF is heating up

The nomination of a new chairman for KKL-JNF is getting mixed up with the ongoing Knesset coalition talks and Likud party politics.

KKL-JNF building in Jerusalem (photo credit: UTILISATEUR:DJAMPA/WIKIMEIDA COMMONS)
KKL-JNF building in Jerusalem
(photo credit: UTILISATEUR:DJAMPA/WIKIMEIDA COMMONS)

The World Likud faction in KKL-JNF is expected to announce on Tuesday that its candidate for temporary chairperson of the organization will be Ifat Ovadia Luski, who is currently the head of the Department of culture, Hebrew and the fight against antisemitism at Keren HaYesod, according to a report by Maariv.

Party politics in the Likud

However, this may arouse opposition in the Likud since the party has already decided to nominate former labor, social affairs and social services minister Haim Katz for the job. According to the World Zionist Congress coalition agreement, Avraham (Duvdev) Duvdevani, the current chairman of KKL-JNF and a representative of the World Mizrachi faction, was already supposed to end his tenure after two years and pass the torch on to Katz as a representative of the Likud. Duvdevani claimed that he had an agreement that he would only leave his position if the candidate to replace him was Katz, otherwise he was going to stay.

Yet sources in the WZO told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that Duvdevani has written a letter stating that he will end his tenure at the end of December.

There were reports in the media that prime minister designate Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to offer former minister and Likud veteran Tzachi Hanegbi to run KKL-JNF during the establishment of the incoming Knesset coalition deals. But Netanyahu cannot offer this position without the approval of the World Likud leadership – which is dominated by former ambassador to the UN Danny Danon.

Danon has requested from Netanyahu to become the speaker of the Knesset, but he isn’t mentioned as one of the nominees and isn’t one of the members of the party who are close to Netanyahu. If he will want to offer this job to any of his party members, he will need the backing of Danon and his close political partner Yaakov Hagoel, who serves as chairman of the WZO and is considered the strongest politician in the National Institutions building in Jerusalem that houses the WZO, KKL-JNF, Keren Hayesod and the Jewish Agency.

 Acting Jewish Agency chairman and WZO chairman Yaakov Hagoel is seen addressing the Jerusalem Post London Conference, on March 31, 2022. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) Acting Jewish Agency chairman and WZO chairman Yaakov Hagoel is seen addressing the Jerusalem Post London Conference, on March 31, 2022. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Sources close to Danon say that contrary to reports on the matter, he isn’t interested in serving as chairman of KKL-JNF. It is considered a position that was usually taken on by retiring politicians and he is still young and has many goals to achieve in the Knesset.

Shifts in the WZO

Another shift in the institutions is that Likud member Yishai Merling, head of the Settlement Division of the WZO with a hundreds-of-million shekel budget, will step down, according to the coalition agreement. His replacement is expected to be his predecessor Gael Greenwald of the World Mizrachi movement, who served in this position up until two years ago and is currently running the Education Department of the WZO. His replacement is expected to be Roi Abecassis, also from World Mizrachi, who currently serves as the WZO’s head of the Center for Spiritual Affairs in the Diaspora and formerly served as director-general of World Bnei Akiva.

Merling is considered to be the “wonderboy” of the WZO. He is in his early 30s and received the prestigious role since he is the founder and chairman of Likudim, the Likud National Forum, which received an impressive vote in the internal World Likud elections. It is unclear if Merling will continue to serve in an official role in the organization.

According to sources in the Likud Party, Katz hasn’t decided yet if he would prefer to serve as chairman of KKL-JNF or as a minister.