Decision replacing United Israel Appeal chair invalid, won’t be respected

Steven Lowy, chairman of the United Israel Appeal board of trustees says ‘all avenues’ will be explored to prevent incumbent world chairman Sam Grundwerg from being ousted in six months.

Steven Lowy (photo credit: KEREN HAYESOD-UIA)
Steven Lowy
(photo credit: KEREN HAYESOD-UIA)
Steven Lowy, the chairman of the World Board of Trustees of Keren Hayesod–United Israel Appeal, has said that the vote passed in the 38th World Zionist Congress last week to extend the tenure of the organization’s current world chairman for just six months is invalid and violates its constitution and bylaws.
The decision as it stands means that world chairman Sam Grundwerg’s time in his position will end in April 2021, and a candidate from the Blue and White Party will subsequently be elected to replace him, in accordance with a political deal formed at the WZC last week.
Lowy said that United Israel Appeal itself does not recognize the legitimacy of the vote in the WZC, and that it was the “unilateral position of the entire World Board of Trustees” of United Israel Appeal that the organization “never agreed to this decision or will ever agree to this decision.”
Asked if the Board of Trustees would take legal action if the decision is not reversed, Lowy said simply, “We would look at all avenues in dealing with what will happen.”
The World Zionist Organization insisted in response to Lowy’s comments that the vote had indeed been lawful and in accordance with Keren Hayesod’s statutes.
Lowy’s comments presage a potentially severe struggle over the control and governance of the organization between its Diaspora leadership and the political and denominational elements that formulated the agreement as passed in the WZC.
Keren Hayesod–United Israel Appeal is a major fundraising organization for the State of Israel in the Diaspora outside of the US, and distributes close to $200 million annually, overwhelmingly to projects inside Israel.
It is governed by the World Board of Trustees and Board of Directors, but its chairman is supposed to be agreed upon by a joint committee of United Israel Appeal and WZO officials who have equal weight and representation on the panel, known as the Advice and Consent Committee.
Once a candidate is agreed upon, the World Zionist Congress takes a vote to confirm them as world chairman.
In August, ahead of last week’s congress, Lowy says that he communicated clearly to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz that the World Board of Trustees strongly believed that current chairman Sam Grundwerg should remain in his position until 2022 due to the COVID-19 crisis and the importance of organizational stability at a very challenging time for fundraising operations.
Last Sunday, however, before the congress began on Tuesday, Netanyahu wrote a letter thanking Grundwerg for his work and stating that a new chairman would be appointed.
Former Likud MK Avraham Neguise and Shifra Shahar, an NGO director, were proposed as candidates to the Advice and Consent Committee, but their candidacy was not accepted, Lowy and other Keren Hayesod officials said.  [See correction below]
On Wednesday, the Advice and Consent Committee convened again by video conference call, including outgoing WZO chairman Avraham Duvdevani, incoming WZO chairman Yaakov Hagoel, Yaron Shavit, a representative of the non-Orthodox Jewish denominations, and Masha Lublanski of the Labor Party, along with Lowy and two other World Board of Trustee members, to discuss again the matter of United Israel Appeal chairman.
Lowy says that during that meeting it was agreed by all sides that Grundwerg would continue in his position until the end of April 2022.
Come Thursday morning, however, Lowy says that agreement was “unilaterally changed” when the WZC voted to extend Grundwerg’s tenure by just six months, meaning that his position as chairman would end after this period.
This vote was part of the political deal agreed upon by the Center-Left, liberal bloc of the WZC, including Blue and White, Yesh Atid and the Reform and Masorti movements with the right-wing, religious-Zionist and ultra-Orthodox bloc.
“The agreement we reached was ignored and what was voted on was nowhere near what was agreed,” Lowy told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, adding that a sitting chairman has “never been removed in this manner.”
“Sam is doing a brilliant job under very difficult decisions, the trustees are completely satisfied, we want him to continue and have no intention to change chairman at this time,” Lowy said.
Lowy said that the governing statute of United Israel Appeal clearly stipulates that the candidate to be voted on by the WZC must be agreed by the Advice and Consent Committee and that this statute was contravened in the decision to extend Grundwerg’s tenure for only six months.
“The independence of Keren Hayesod is what is at hand here... We care about efficiency, we care about where the money is going, and about independent leadership, these principles are sacrosanct,” said Lowy.
“Who in the Diaspora is going to give money to an organization which is entirely controlled by the Israeli political system and in a situation when they do not have confidence in the governance and leadership of that organization?” he said. “I completely respect the position of the prime minister and the political system of the WZO, and respect the historical processes that have taken place, but I represent the Diaspora community and we ask for mutual respect for those who have toiled for decades raising money for Israel, without whom not one dollar would be raised.”
The WZO said in response “The procedures of the election of the chairman of Keren Hayesod were conducted legally, in accordance with the statutes of Keren Hayesod and the constitution of the World Zionist organization, according to which the final decision on this matter is given exclusively to the World Zionist Organization and was taken by a vote of hundreds of delegates from around the world.
“This vote ends the complex process of several stages in which different options were considered which were ultimately brought to the decision of the congress”
A source in the WZO with knowledge of the events said in response that it was important for the United Israel Appeal leadership to acknowledge that the WZO itself is a major stakeholder in the organization and that the political process was legitimate.
The source insisted that there was “no reason for the United Israel Appeal leadership to be upset” with the outcome of the agreement, since the candidacy for the new chairman would be nominated in full consultation with the relevant governing bodies of the organization.
“Politics is a part of the mechanism of electing heads of Jewish organizations all over the world, and the political mechanisms within the Zionist movement are not always associated with those with the biggest pockets, so I don’t accept this perspective of looking down on the political process,” said the source.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article claimed that two candidates for the job of chairman of Keren Hayesod - Avraham Neguise and Shifra Shahar - were rejected and deemed inappropriate. This was inaccurate. While the committee did not select these two candidates for the job, we apologize for claiming that they were rejected and inappropriate.