Newsdesk May 13, 2005

Meridor To Step Down

The chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Sallai Meridor, announced that he will step down from his position in June.

After six years as head of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, Meridor said he would leave after the Jewish Agency’s board of governors’ meeting next month, a year before his term ends.

“I believe that the best interest of public organizations require change, and that as a norm public servants should not stay in their chairs forever. Accordingly, the question before me for the past few months has been when to make the change — now or a year from now,” Meridor wrote in a statement.

Meridor has been a strong supporter of Prime Minister Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan. Sources close to Meridor said he may be appointed either as Israel’s ambassador to Washington or as a special ambassador to the Jewish world on disengagement.

The Jewish Agency is the main body responsible for relations between Israel and the Diaspora. A week earlier, Israel’s minister for Diaspora affairs, Natan Sharansky, resigned from his position because of his opposition to the Gaza disengagement plan.

This week he took a job as a senior fellow at a Jerusalem think tank, the Shalem Center. But he is said to be considering a run for Jewish Agency chairman next year, at the next World Zionist Congress. Sources close to the Jewish Agency said that Meridor resigned at least partly to block Sharansky’s prospects of being elected. By resigning now, sources said, Meridor hopes to open the way for an interim chairman who could then face Sharansky in 2006 as an incumbent.

Among those named as possible candidates for the interim post are Shai Hermesh, the agency’s treasurer, who has worked closely with Meridor, and Zeev Bielski, mayor of Ra’anana, who has strong ties among the agency’s American donors.

Meridor has pushed for reforms to streamline the Jewish Agency, which is often criticized as a bloated bureaucracy. During his tenure, the agency created a strategic plan to nurture the Zionist identity of Diaspora Jews. It also launched MASA, a partnership with the Israeli government to subsidize Diaspora youth visiting Israel for short- and long-term programs.

Abuse Watchdog Resigns

Rabbi Yosef Blau, the leading clergyman in the fight against sexual abuse by rabbis in the Orthodox community, resigned his position with a controversial advocacy organization last week amid a campaign targeting him.

Blau told the Forward that he was stepping down from the board of The Awareness Center, which publicizes cases of alleged abuse, in part because this Sunday he is expected to be elected president of the Religious Zionists of America. Also, Blau said, he wanted “to be careful that I won’t be something that is used” to tar the Rabbinical Council of America as it faces a torrent of criticism following its decision to expel Rabbi Mordechai Tendler from its ranks. The RCA expelled Tendler, accusing the rabbi of “inappropriate” conduct and of not cooperating with the organization’s investigation into sexual abuse allegations against him.

Supporters of Tendler have launched a campaign against Blau, painting him as overly eager in pursuing allegedly abusive rabbis and criticizing him for saying that the rabbinical court process is insufficient for dealing with victims of abuse. Some critics have created anonymous Web sites dedicated to attacking Blau, including BlauFacts.com; pro-Tendler Orthodox news outlets like The Jewish Press have been editorializing against him.

“The story isn’t all about whether I will or won’t be with The Awareness Center,” Blau said. “It’s about whether” abuse victims will “get the support that they need.”

British Jews Lose

Britain’s most prominent Jewish politicians did not fare well in elections last week. Oona King, a Labour Party member of parliament, lost her seat by 823 votes to George Galloway, who campaigned on his opposition to the war in Iraq. King, whose has a Jewish mother and a black father, said she was the victim of antisemitism during the race.

“The fact that my mother was Jewish came up all of the time in a quite disturbing way,” King told BBC Radio 4. “As a kid it was always, ‘Oy, you nigger,’ ‘You wog’ and all the rest of it, and now it was ‘Yids,’ ‘’You Jewish bitch, get out of here,’ all of that sort of stuff.”

King’s Labour Party returned to power with a reduced majority. It was enough to spell the end for Michael Howard, who was the head of the Conservative Party and had hoped to become Britain’s first openly Jewish prime minister. Howard said he will relinquish his leadership position by the end of the year.

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Newsdesk May 13, 2005

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