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Israeli Reformer Takes Over Jewish Agency

February 22, 1995

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Taking over as Jewish Agency chairman, Israeli lawmaker Avraham Burg vowed to strengthen ties between Israel and world Jewry by turning the organization into a ``parliament of the Jewish people.″

The quasi-governmental agency’s 120-member Board of Governors on Wednesday confirmed Burg’s nomination by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor Party.

Many Jews in Israel and abroad have criticized the organization as an outmoded and inefficient relic of British rule, when the agency was founded to help waves of Jewish immigrants settle in Palestine.

They say it is an over-staffed and over-funded bureaucracy, and that private organizations can now fulfill the agency’s mission: settling new immigrants and sponsoring tours to Israel.

Burg, too, suggested that the agency should switch its focus.

``Without concentrated effort to become the so-to-speak Parliament of the Jewish people, we stand no chance to keep the connection between Israel and the diaspora,″ the 40-year-old legislator said.

Board members are evenly divided between Israelis and Jews from abroad, including a large U.S. representation. Three Russian-born delegates were elected Wednesday, including Nathan Sharansky, who immigrated to Israel in 1986 after nine years in Soviet jails.

Burg expressed concern about growing assimilation in overseas Jewish communities and maintaining support for Israel once peace is reached with the Arabs.

``Can we, and how do we, survive without an external enemy? That’s the question of our times,″ he said.

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