October 12, 2006
Former Jewish Agency head tapped as Israel’s next ambassador to U.S.
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"A number of times, he took me in his car all over Judea and Samaria," Klein recalled, using the biblical names for the West Bank, "and he knew every inch, he knew the biblical significance of each area. This is someone who understands the holiness of that land, unlike others in government.
Klein said Meridor was a "pragmatist" who could support the Gaza withdrawal, while understanding the significance of the region to Jewish history. Speaking last year to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Meridor said his concern for the health of Israel's democracy trumped his love for the land.
"Israel was created to be a state of and for the Jewish people," he said "And in order to have a Jewish and democratic state, you have to maintain" a "significant, large, Jewish majority."
As the World Zionist Organization settlement chief from 1992-1997, and then as Jewish Agency boss, Meridor presided over an end to the long-standing agency policy of not directing funds to West Bank settlements, a practice that earned him reproaches from the Israeli left.
However, U.S. Jewish officials say that was more a result of U.S. funders who were pressing the agency to end the policy, and less Meridor's personal preference. The settlement legacy will not harm him now, said Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
"His politics are seen as moderate, he's someone who gets along with all sides of the spectrum," he said.
Meridor's familiarity with Jewish leaders, cultivated over those years, will also serve him well in his new job, Jewish leaders said.
Seymour Reich, the president of the Israel Policy Forum, said Meridor didn't just come asking for money; he wanted input on policy from U.S. Jews.
"He was constantly in contact with American Jewish leadership, not just on philanthropic issues, but on social issues as well," he said.
JTA correspondent Dina Kraft in Tel Aviv and staff writer Jacob Berkman in New York contributed to this report.
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