The early pioneers, of whom we are so proud, drained the swamps of Israel to create productive farmland and rid the country of malaria. As the World Zionist Congress opens and picks the next head of the KKL-JNF Jewish National Fund, world Jewry and Benny Gantz are wading deeper into the swamp, embracing the toxic pollution from Israel’s broken political culture.
The Reform and Conservative movements often complain that they have little say in Israel’s Knesset in order to express their values and advance their interests. The World Zionist Congress, however, is a forum where they can exercise leadership and influence some of the issues facing Israel and the Jewish people. And Benny Gantz claims to want to put forward a meaningful alternative to Israel’s leadership and political culture. Yet the liberal movements and Benny Gantz failed to get together to create a moral and political center of gravity around a KKL candidate that reflects their values. Instead, they took the feckless, immoral stance to support the current chairman.
In other circumstances, I would avoid getting personal, but billions of shekels are at stake and the current chairman is immoral, incompetent and investigated multiple times for financial improprieties. Netanyahu’s alternative candidate, Haim Katz, is also immoral, incompetent, not to mention indicted. Gantz’s and the liberal movements’ candidate not only commandeered public lands for his personal swimming pool, but also presided as $30 million disappeared from the KKL budget and ended up in the West Bank, and was in the news this week for highly questionable contract allocation practices. Netanyahu’s candidate cares nothing about the environment, was forced to step down as a minister, and is indicted for fraud and breach of trust. There are other minor politicians, non-environmentalists, hoping to be rotated in with some kind of last-minute compromise.
How will the delegates from the liberal movements face their congregants when they get off their Zoom vote and justify paving the way for hoods to rule one of the symbols of Jewish nationhood, an institution founded by Theodor Herzl? They, with Benny Gantz, had an inspired, clean, environmental, qualified alternative and lacked the moral backbone to do the right thing in the one global forum where their values could be expressed. Meretz and Yesh Atid, to their credit, are showing backbone by refusing on principle to back the current KKL chairman.
Professor Alon Tal is Israel’s leading environmentalist, served for many years on the KKL board, and is a pluralistic immigrant from the United States. He was endorsed for the KKL Chair, by all the major environmental organizations in the State of Israel but not by the dregs of Israeli politics. For the sin of Professor Tal playing cleanly, the land of Israel, Israel-diaspora relations, and the reputations of the progressive movements are all going to be polluted.
If Benny Gantz can’t pull together a coalition of decency at the World Zionist Congress around the most inspiring candidate for chair of KKL, why would he – or his dwindling base of voters – even think he can be prime minister one day? And if Gantz pulls off a miracle and does move into Balfour one day, he will find that Benjamin Netanhayu still makes all the key decisions through the rubber-stamp lackeys he has been placing into institutions and ministries. Like now at KKL.
More alarmingly for the environment, Netanyahu and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz are about to stack the energy market and control all major decisions for a decade with the upcoming appointment of a new head of the Public Utilities Authority – the supposedly independent electricity regulator. Blue and White is being out-maneuvered, not only at the World Zionist Congress but in the cesspool of Israel’s largest corrupt decision-making arena, the energy sector. Gantz and Ashkenazi are asleep at the wheel and will likely wake up too late to do anything meaningful, ceding energy and pollution to Netanyahu for essentially a generation. Here we can’t blame the Reform and Conservative movements but only the alternative Prime Minister.
Maybe it’s not too late for a last-minute rebellion of decency to step forward and elect Professor Alon Tal as Chair of JNF-KKL. Then American Jewry can stand up proud that they played a key role in draining our 21st-century swamp. I hope they at least show a fighting effort with the Minister of Defense.
Yosef Abramowitz, writing in a private capacity, is Israel’s leading solar pioneer. He can be followed @KaptainSunshine