How Israel's Dusty Zionist Bureaucracy Survives

Jobs for Cronies — and Ties to Deep-Pocketed Diaspora

haaretz

By Anshel Pfeffer

Published May 10, 2014.
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(Haaretz) — The Knesset is full of young politicians, a generation unacquainted with the national Zionist institutions, which thinks they’re dusty and irrelevant old relics. Only the experienced operators — headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman — are aware of the treasure that lies in them: unsupervised budgets, jobs for cronies and a direct link to the golden goose that is the Jewish Diaspora.

Israel’s media long ago forgot these un-sexy bodies. There are no dedicated Diaspora reporters anymore, and last month’s investigation into the affairs of the Jewish National Fund on Channel 10 was a rarity. But the JNF is just the richest and strongest link in a chain of organizations set up in the days of pre-independence to create the state-to-be. Israel is now 66 years in the being, and there seems less justification than ever to keep alive the bureaucracy, which should have been disbanded at independence.

The secret of the survival of the World Zionist Organization, the JNF, the Jewish Agency and Keren Hayesod — United Israel Appeal is the people running them — politicians of the kind that other politicians, no matter of what party, can do business with. People who can quickly and quietly transfer funding, solve a problem for a mayor or deputy minister, connect a Jewish donor with a good cause and find a job for a loyal Knesset member who lost his seat.

The anonymous great leader from the WZO

On Monday night, when Israel’s great and good gathered at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem for the traditional ceremony marking the transition between Memorial and Independence Days, they looked beyond Theodor Herzl’s grave towards Helkat Gdolei Ha’umah, the plot of the nation’s greats. Only presidents, prime ministers and speakers of the Knesset are eligible for burial there, along with their partners. But the resting place of one functionary, virtually unknown to the Israeli public, is reserved on the mount — Avraham Duvdevani, the chairman of the World Zionist Organization.

Duvdevani, or “Duvdev,” as everyone calls him, is a veteran member of the old National Religious Party, now rebranded as Habayit Hayehudi, the son of a Knesset member and a devoted public servant in his own right who has spent his entire career in various posts in the Jewish Agency and JNF.

Duvdevani is the landlord of Mount Herzl, as the WZO is responsible for Herzl’s gravesite. And as WZO chairman, a title that was first held by Herzl and subsequently David Ben-Gurion and Haim Weitzman, Duvdevani, he is also eligible to be buried there.

Despite his anonymity, Duvdevani has achieved a rare feat that few are aware of. He breathed new life into an organization that the entire Jewish establishment had written off as a useless appendage.

Five years ago, following a prolonged struggle, the heads of the Jewish Federations of North America, which finance two-thirds of the Jewish Agency’s budget, succeeded in forcing the Agency to detach itself from the WZO, which had served as its board of directors with seats divided according to the relative strength of the Zionist parties in the Knesset. The Jewish Agency Chairman was also the head of the WZO, which symbolized to American members all that was corrupt and politicized; an obstacle to reform. Disconnecting the two organizations was their victory.


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