New Jewish Agency Head Could Be Chosen Next Week, but Lapid Yet to Pick Candidate

Special panel to appoint replacement for Isaac Herzog is set to sit on November 30, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid having until a day before to submit a progressive nominee to run against eight right-wing candidates

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Foreign Minister and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid last week.
Foreign Minister and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid last week.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

The special committee tasked with choosing the next head of the Jewish Agency will convene early next week to select its nominee, though Israel’s center-left parties and progressive movements have yet to announce who their candidate will be.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who serves as the chairman of the centrist Yesh Atid party, was supposed to have made the announcement by last Wednesday, but that deadline passed without any name being put forward.

A spokesman for the foreign minister told Haaretz on Sunday that Lapid has until a day before the nominations committee meets – Tuesday November 30 – to announce his candidate.

Lapid’s previous candidate came under pressure to withdraw his candidacy following a public outcry over sexist remarks he made. Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern, whose candidacy had also received the blessing of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, suggested in a radio interview that he habitually shredded complaints about sexual harassment while serving in his previous position as head of the army’s manpower division.

The nominations committee was supposed to have chosen its candidate for chairperson of the executive of the Jewish Agency by October 17. After the withdrawal of Stern, a member of Yesh Atid, Lapid asked the committee for a month’s extension, which was granted. Although he did not issue a public request for a further extension, he appears to have been given one nonetheless.

There are already eight candidates vying for the top job at the Agency, which became vacant in June after Isaac Herzog stepped down in order to assume his new position as president of Israel. All eight are either members of the right-wing Likud, have some sort of affiliation with the party or identify strongly with the right-wing camp.

Lapid and his associates have been extremely secretive about the identity of their candidate. The foreign minister said several weeks ago that he had a candidate, but it is not clear whether that is still the case.

Among the names touted have been former vice prime minister and foreign minister Tzipi Livni, among the most accomplished women in Israeli politics, and Nachman Shai, a Labor Party politician currently serving as Diaspora affairs minister.

According to Jewish Agency by-laws, the candidate for the position must be approved by nine of the 10 members of the nominations committee. The decision must then be ratified by the Jewish Agency’s board of governors.

The eight current candidates are Danny Danon, head of World Likud and the former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations; Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, deputy mayor of Jerusalem; Michal Cotler-Wunsh, former lawmaker for Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party; Uzi Dayan, former general and Likud lawmaker; Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to Washington and Knesset member for the center-right Kulanu party; Omer Yankelevich, a former Diaspora affairs minister who is tightly aligned with settler movement; Yaffa Zilbershats, a law professor at Bar-Ilan University who previously headed the Council for Higher Education’s planning and budget department; and Irina Nevzlin, board chief of ANU – Museum of the Jewish People.

Michal Cotler-Wunsh in her Tel Aviv office.Credit: Moti Milrod

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