American funders' wish to reform the leadership of the Jewish Agency may "de-Zionize" it by cutting its ties to the Israeli political system, a longtime member of the Jewish Agency Executive warned on Thursday. The reform process, being pushed most strongly by the United Jewish Communities of North America, will weaken the representation of the World Zionist Organization - which brings together Israeli political parties and overseas Zionist groups and religious movements - in the leadership ranks of the Jewish Agency. "The Americans think the problem with the Jewish Agency leadership has been [its dependence on Israeli] politics," said Rabbi Dick Hirsch, chairman of the WZO's Zionist General Council and a WZO representative in the Jewish Agency Executive, its supreme governing body. "But I've been a member of the Zionist Executive since 1970 and I'm not aware of any Jewish Agency chairman making decisions motivated by Israeli politics," Hirsch insisted. Selected through WZO politicking, the chairmen have traditionally been de facto appointees of the sitting Israeli prime minister. But this connection did not translate into politically motivated policies "for the simple reason that Israeli politics don't care about agency policy," Hirsch said. The row between the UJC and Keren Hayesod - the umbrella funding group from non-American Jewish communities - on the one hand, and the WZO and agency officials on the other are placing the next prime minister-appointed chairmanship at risk - that of famed dissident and former deputy prime minister Natan Sharansky. If the American-sponsored governance reforms are passed, Sharansky's appointment would no longer be assured through Israeli dominance of WZO politics, but would be dependent on a Jewish Agency appointments committee. "I think Sharansky's appointment is in danger," said Hirsch, who added that he, too, had heard the ongoing rumors within the agency that the Americans were hoping Israeli businessman Eytan Wertheimer would take the job. Wertheimer fits the bill for an American-style lay leader of a large Jewish organization. "The Americans believe in this voluntary system of federation boards," explains Hirsch, while "the WZO deals in elections and politicking." That division, in which the Americans are seeking to separate the Jewish Agency from Israeli politics, may have the effect of "de-Zionizing" the agency and transforming it into a second JDC - that is, a purely philanthropic organization with no overriding Zionist ideology or infrastructure and lacking the special connection of the Jewish agency to Israeli governmental organs. The UJC declined to comment for this story.