Heard Around Jerusalem

By most accounts it’s been a quiet summer in Israel. While the social justice protests capture the headlines, not much has been happening in the local Jewish world. An unscientific poll indicates there have been fewer Diaspora leaders around than the past two summers; whether June’s Israeli Presidential Conference, or the continued state of the economy, is more responsible is open to speculation.

In the organizational world, the possible reuniting of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization (WZO) appears to be sidelined. However, as we mentioned back in June, the WZO is bent on causing mischief.

WZO chair Avraham (Duvdev) Duvdevani has appointed the organization’s first ever emissary to the US and Canada in order to promote aliyah among the almost 700,000 Russian-speaking Jews in the two countries. The appointment comes at a time when the Jewish Agency, as part of its new structural reform is downsizing aliyah promotion to concentrate its efforts on fostering Jewish identity and Peoplehood.

But this is not as simple as the WZO trying to pick up the perceived shortcomings of the Jewish Agency. It’s about Israeli politics and the “Russian street”. Duvdevani, who heads an organization with no cash to spare, is from the Mizrachi block, which is aligned with Avigdor Lieberman (Israel Beiteinu) in the WZO. Lieberman is currently engaged  in opening a front against Natan Sharansky for influence and support among the Russian speaking Jews in North America. Lieberman, who as Foreign Minister controls the budget for Nativ (which is currently active in the FSU and Germany), is looking to build up the WZO with the intention of harming the Jewish Agency, and therefore Sharansky’s credibility. Duvdevani is happy to assist.

We also hear that during the June WZO meetings Duvdevani was clearly told that in the Diaspora the WZO needed to operate with the local country Zionist federations, and not on their own. Seems to us that message didn’t resonate in Jerusalem; not on reaching out to the Russian-Jewish community or on plans for a New York seminar on “Countering Antisemitism and the delegitimization of Israel” scheduled for next month.

In other doings at the WZO, despite even their own board members telling eJP that they’re not sure what the organization does besides provide jobs for apparatchiks, there appears to be one bright spot – the continued growth of the Herzl Museum and the recent dedication of the Stella and Alexander Margulies Education Center. Under the guidance of Dr. David Breakstone, the WZO’s vice-chair, this new center celebrates Herzl’s life rather than remembering his death. Leveraging Herzl’s vision, perhaps Breakstone can get his colleagues at the WZO to set an example, embrace Israel as an “exemplary society” and a “light unto the nations”. Though that would require putting personal interests to the side.

Maybe not such a bad thought as we prepare to usher in Tisha B’Av.