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Zionists Win Effort To Keep Seats, Sway

A number of Zionist groups have won a battle to keep their influence at the American branch of a prominent Jewish organization.

The American branch of Jewish National Fund, a storied organization that played a critical role in building the State of Israel, recently took steps to add board members. The move would have had the effect of diluting the influence of Zionist organizations, which have historically had a set number of board seats at JNF.

When the constitution committee proposed adding up to 70 seats to JNF’s board, the members of the American Zionist Movement objected and killed the proposal during a vote May 19.

“There were aspects of the proposals that we thought weren’t conducive to a positive future for the JNF and us,” said William Hess, president of the American Zionist Movement. “We can’t stop, but we can block. It’s a nasty way of doing business, and I’m not crazy about it.”

JNF is one of a number of older Israel-oriented organizations that have grappled with how to balance the influence of active and wealthy donors against that of groups affiliated with various streams of the Zionist movement, many of which have waned in membership and influence in recent years.

In the fall of 2007, major Jewish donors demanded that the World Zionist Organization, whose officers are selected by representatives of Zionist organizations and the Israeli political parties, be separated from the board of the Jewish Agency for Israel, charging that the WZO’s political bent stood in the way of efficient management.

JNF officials said they were confident that an amicable agreement could be reached.

“Our desire was to increase participation,” said Russell Robinson, CEO of JNF. “One of the best problems one can have is when everyone wants to have a role.”

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