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Netanyahu's Dark-horse Candidate for Jewish Agency Chief - and Why She Wasn't Approved

Netanyahu recommended for the job Italian-born Johanna Arbib, the president of the Jerusalem Foundation, a non-profit that promotes social and cultural projects in Israel’s capital

Yohanna Arbib speaking during an interview in 2014.
Youtube/Keren Hayesod UIA

Those hoping to hear news this week of who would replace Natan Sharansky as chairman of the Jewish Agency, the biggest Jewish non-profit in the world, are in for a disappointment.

The Jewish Agency Board of Governors concluded three days of meetings on Tuesday without any decision on Sharansky’s successor being taken.

But one name was brought up as a possibility – and it wasn’t an obvious one.

As Haaretz has learned, during his meeting with Jewish Agency leaders over the weekend, Netanyahu recommended for the job Italian-born Johanna Arbib, the president of the Jerusalem Foundation, a non-profit that promotes social and cultural projects in Israel’s capital.

Arbib, who is the former chairwoman of board of trustees of Keren Hayesod and serves on the executive board of the Jewish Agency, lives in Rome and works in international finance and real estate. Jewish Agency leaders, with whom Netanyahu met, made clear that they did not consider her an ideal candidate. Never before has the chair of the Jewish Agency come from outside Israel.

Netanyahu revealed in his conversations with Jewish Agency leaders that he had not yet approached Arbib to ask whether she would be interested in the job, and his interlocutors suggested he do that before giving her candidacy any further consideration.

The prime minister subsequently informed them that he would draft a new list of nominees, indicating that Arbib’s candidacy was no longer on the table.

Arbib’s name has never before been mentioned as a possible candidate to head the Jewish Agency. Other names that have come up include Michael Oren, the former ambassador to the United States; Yuval Steinitz, Israel's Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources; Isaac Herzog, the former head of the Labor Party; Benny Kashriel, the mayor of the West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim; and Rivka Carmi, the outgoing president of Ben-Gurion University.

None of the other names were brought up during Netanyahu’s conversation with Jewish Agency leaders.

Sharansky is scheduled to step down in June after serving for nine years as chairman of the quasi-governmental agency. If there is no replacement for him by then, the entire agency executive board will either fill in for him or appoint a temporary replacement.

The chairman of the agency is traditionally nominated by the prime minister and approved by a special appointments committee comprised of Jewish world leaders.