Jewish Agency Head Appointment Delayed After Abrupt Withdrawal of Lapid's Candidate

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Minister of Intelligence, Elazar Stern, in Jerusalem in June.
Minister of Intelligence, Elazar Stern, in Jerusalem in June.Credit: Emil Salman

A committee tasked with selecting a new leader for the Jewish Agency agreed on Monday to push back the final approval date by a month, in accordance with a request from Foreign Minister Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid.

The request was prompted by the sudden pullout from the race last week by Elazar Stern, who had been considered a front-runner for the job and was the candidate chosen by Lapid, with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's blessing.

Lapid originally put in his request last week but was given only until Sunday afternoon to present another candidate. After not submitting any names by the deadline and after some behind-the-scenes wrangling, the committee backed down and agreed to oblige him.

As a result, the Jewish Agency board of governors moved its scheduled meeting to approve the committee's chosen candidate from next week to February. However, sources close to the selection process said the new head of the organization will likely be chosen long before then.

According to the Jewish Agency bylaws, a candidate for chairman of the executive must be endorsed by nine of the ten members of the nomination committee before it is brought forth for final approval to the board of governors. Following Stern’s withdrawal from the race, eight candidates remain, but no single candidate is expected to win such a large majority of votes on the nomination committee.

Among the names circulating is Tzipi Livni, the former opposition leader and, until her retirement in 2019, one of the most prominent female politicians in Israel. Another candidate whose name has recently been touted is Nachman Shai, a member of the Labor Party who currently serves as diaspora affairs minister.

All eight candidates currently vying for the job are either members of the right-wing Likud, have some affiliation with the party or strongly identify with the right-wing camp.

Tzipi Livni at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, last year.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Representatives of the progressive Jewish movements and the center-left parties have, therefore, expressed concern about a right-wing takeover of the Jewish Agency. Of the major Zionist organizations, three of the four are currently headed by representatives of right-wing parties: Keren Hayesod – United Israel Appeal, the largest fundraising body for Israel, is headed by Sam Grundwerg, a Likud appointee; the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael), which owns large swaths of land in Israel, is headed by Avraham Duvdevani, a representative of the religious Zionist movement World Mizrahi; and the World Zionist Organization is headed by Yaakov Hagoel, the former director of World Likud. Hagoel has been filling in as acting chairman since Herzog’s resignation from the Jewish Agency.

The eight candidates  who have already been interviewed by the nominations committee are Danny Danon, head of World Likud and former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations; Irina Nevzlin, board chief of the ANU Museum of the Jewish People; Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, deputy mayor of Jerusalem; Michal Kotler-Wunsh, former Knesset member for Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party; Uzi Dayan, former general and Likud lawmaker;  Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to Washington and former Knesset member for the center-right Kulanu party;  Omer Yankelevich, former diaspora affairs minister and member of Kahol Lavan; and Yaffa Zilbershats, a law professor at Bar-Ilan University and former head of the Council for Higher Education’s planning and budget department.

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