A native New Yorker who made aliyah during the first Gulf War in 1991, B. Daniel Diker is a regular traveler between Israel and the United States, travel that will become more frequent on his new job — secretary general of the World Jewish Congress. Now easing into the position, Diker will officially succeed Michael Schneider in June.
Diker, 49, a graduate of Harvard University, has served in a series of policy and diplomacy posts, including Middle East adviser at the WJC, and director of the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs’ Institute for Contemporary Affairs.
A former journalist and expert on Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy and the Iranian nuclear threat, he will become the top professional at the 74-year-old organization that has established its reputation by working for Holocaust reparations, fighting anti-Semitism and exposing the Nazi background of United Nations’ Secretary-General Waldheim. The Jewish Week reached Diker in Jerusalem.
Q: You come to the WJC with a lower visibility — among many American Jews, at least — than your predecessors as secretary general. Will that be a plus or minus in your new position?
A: Perhaps it can be considered a plus. I bring a new pair of eyes to the Jewish political world, and perhaps some fresh ideas.
My point of reference is a little different than my predecessors. Their point of reference was the diaspora. My point of reference is weighted to our friends in Israel. Perhaps my visibility in the Jewish world may be lower, but my visibility in the think-tank world has been fairly substantial. I’ve lectured a lot to all the Jewish organizations in the United States about what is happening in the Middle East. I’ve done a lot on television — commentary on CNN, Fox, some of the networks. I’ve been known in that context.
You’re an expert on Iran’s nuclear threat. Might a back channel role in Middle East affairs be part of your new portfolio?
The World Jewish Congress has always played a role as the diplomatic arm of the Jewish people, [working] with the Israeli Foreign Ministry. President [Ronald] Lauder has said the time for the Jewish people to defend themselves is coming to an end it’s time to go on the offensive, time to advance a much more self-confident diplomacy for Israel and the Jewish people … so we’re not constantly reacting to diplomatic assaults against us, but we’re being proactive to establish an agenda that puts our adversaries on the defensive.
Your background is in politics and diplomacy, not like your predecessors, who came from the Jewish communal world. Does that indicate a change in emphasis for the WJC?
Michael Schneider has done an outstanding job in stabilizing the organization. The Congress is now ready to reestablish itself on the stage of international diplomacy and advocacy. We’re going to have to do a lot of work in branding the organization to show our constituencies that we’re out in front on a number of important issues.
The Congress’ emphasis — as the result of a two-year strategic review — focuses, as President Lauder has said, on the delegitimization of Israel, terrorism, anti-Semitism, Holocaust restitution and Holocaust memory, the current political assault on the Jewish people, the Iranian nuclear threat, and the still unsolved Jewish refugee problem, nearly a million Jews who were ethnically cleansed from Middle Eastern countries.
There is a little more focus now on helping Israel because of the worsening assault on Israel. The assault is on the entire world Jewish community; in that sense it becomes a world Jewish problem.
Is the WJC in better financial shape than a decade ago?
The Congress today is, thank God, in stable financial condition
The WJC, in its early years, was a major player on the world diplomatic stage. Then it made a name fighting for Holocaust reparations and exposing Kurt Waldheim. When the WJC places calls now, do people answer?
Sure they answer.
You’re a former journalist. What would Daniel Diker the reporter ask Daniel Diker the WJC secretary general?
“How will we be able to measure your success in a year or two?”
The answer is, you will be able to measure our success if you see that young Jews are becoming members of the World Jewish Congress and remaining active.