With Israeli Government’s Candidate Bowing Out, Race to Head Jewish Agency Heats Up

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Elazar Stern, in August.
Elazar Stern, in August.Credit: Emil Salman
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

With Elazar Stern out of the race for the top job at the Jewish Agency, an unusual situation has been created: There is no government candidate for one of the most high-profile positions in the Jewish organizational world.

Stern, the intelligence affairs minister, was once considered the front-runner. He withdrew his candidacy Tuesday following the outcry that erupted after he seemed to suggest in a radio interview that he habitually shredded anonymous complaints of sexual harassment when he headed the army’s Manpower Directorate.

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Stern was one of nine candidates aiming to head the executive of the Jewish Agency, which was vacated in June when Isaac Herzog became president of Israel. With Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s blessing, Stern’s candidacy was put forth by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, the head of Stern’s centrist Yesh Atid party. If Stern remained the government’s consensus candidate, he would have had a clear advantage over the competition.

The Jewish Agency board of governors is scheduled to convene on October 26 to approve the candidate chosen by a 10-member nominations committee. But with the race wide open now, it’s possible that the government will request that the decision be delayed until an alternative candidate is selected by Bennett and Lapid.

Another possibility is that the non-Israeli members of the nominations committee, who account for the majority, will offer their own candidate.

Of the major Zionist organizations – also known as the “National Institutions” – three of four are currently headed by representatives of right-wing parties. Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal, the largest fundraising body for the State of Israel, is headed by Sam Grundwerg, a Likud appointee. The Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael), which owns large swaths of land around the country, is headed by Avraham Duvdevani, a representative of World Mizrahi, the national religious movement. Finally, the World Zionist Organization is headed by Yaakov Hagoel, the former director of World Likud.

Since Herzog resigned from the Jewish Agency over the summer to take on his new job, Hagoel has been filling in as acting chairman.

Many of the candidates for the position are members of Likud or affiliated with Likud and the political right. Representatives of the progressive organizations and movements on the Jewish Agency board of governors say it is inconceivable to also hand the Jewish Agency over to Likud, especially considering that it is no longer the ruling party.

Never have there been so many candidates for Jewish Agency chief. According to the agency’s bylaws, nine out of 10 members of the committee must approve the candidate presented to the board of governors.

The committee is comprised of five representatives of the World Zionist Organization, three representatives of the Jewish Federations of North America and two representatives of Keren Hayesod. The panel’s composition is designed to reflect the political and religious breakdown of the different Zionist movements and parties in the World Zionist Congress.

Even before Stern stepped down, his chances of landing the Jewish Agency job were not high because Hagoel, who heads the nominations committee, stacked the panel so as to make it difficult for Stern to win nine of the 10 votes.

The following are the candidates still vying for the job; the nominations committee is expected to finish interviewing them by Wednesday.

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