Ex-U.K. Ambassador Emerges as Leading Candidate for Top Job at Jewish Agency

After a painstaking search for a new leader since last June, the Jewish Agency appears to have found a consensus candidate in former Netanyahu adviser Mark Regev. Right-wing Israeli minister Zeev Elkin is also in the running

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
Israel's Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Mark Regev, in central London, in 2019.
Israel's Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Mark Regev, in central London, in 2019.Credit: Tolga Akmen/AP
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

With the deadline for appointing a new Jewish Agency leader drawing closer, a consensus candidate appears to have been found: Israel’s former ambassador to the United Kingdom Mark Regev, who has also served as foreign press spokesman to two Israeli prime ministers – Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu.

Widely hailed as an articulate spokesperson and expert on public diplomacy, Regev, 62, was for many years one of Israel’s best-known voices on international television. Since the new government was formed last June, he has been employed as a senior visiting fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

In recent days, it was announced that he will be replacing Ron Prosor, another former ambassador to London, as head of the Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy at Reichman University, Herzliya. (Prosor was recently named Israel’s ambassador to Germany.)

Unlike other candidates who preceded him and have since been disqualified, the Australian-born Regev enjoys the support of both conservative and progressive members of the committee tasked with selecting the next chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency.

The Jewish Agency board of governors, which meets three times a year, is scheduled to hold its next gathering between July 10-12. By then, sources familiar with the selection process say they are confident that the candidate whose name will be passed onto the board of governors for final approval will be chosen.

Last June, former Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog left his position as Jewish Agency chairman to become Israel’s president. Several months later, the Jewish Agency board of governors decided that Yaakov Hagoel, chairman of the World Zionist Organization, would serve as acting chairman until a full-time leader was appointed.

Another possible candidate for the job, whose name has come up in recent days, is Construction and Housing Minister Zeev Elkin. Along with other former members of Likud, Elkin helped found the New Hope party, which is part of the coalition government. Recent polls indicate that if elections were held today, New Hope would not cross the electoral threshold.

Housing and Construction Minister Zeev Elkin.Credit: Marc Israel Sellem

According to well-placed political sources, Elkin’s candidacy enjoys the support of Hagoel, who heads the selection committee. Born and raised in Ukraine, Elkin, 51, is considered one of Israel’s savviest politicians. His chances of winning nine out of the 10 votes on the selection committee – the requirement for a candidate for the top job at the Agency, according to its bylaws – are not very good, however.

Elkin was a driving force behind the current government’s decision to stall any movement on renewing the Western Wall deal, which would have provided the non-Orthodox movements with a proper egalitarian prayer space at the Jewish holy site. This would make him unacceptable to Jewish leaders in North America, who attribute immense importance to the deal.

Although Regev served as a media adviser to Netanyahu for many years and was named ambassador to London by the Likud leader, his appointments were considered professional rather than political.

Regev grew up in Melbourne, where he was active in Habonim, the Labor Zionist youth movement. When he immigrated to Israel in 1982, he initially lived on a kibbutz. He has filled diplomatic positions in Washington, Beijing and Hong Kong. He served in his most senior diplomatic post – ambassador to London – between 2016 and 2020.

He did not respond to a request for comment.

Because of the challenges over the past year in reaching a consensus on the identity of the next Jewish Agency chairperson, an agreement was reached last week to modify the selection process by limiting the number of people involved in the initial vetting of candidates. As such, it was decided that a four-person subcommittee would present the larger 10-person forum with a short list of candidates from which to choose. This four-person committee is comprised of Hagoel; Michael Siegal, outgoing chairman of the board of governors; Mark Wilf, incoming chairman of the board of governors and outgoing chairman of the board of trustees of the Jewish Federations of North America; and Steven Lowy, chairman of the world board of trustees of United Israel Appeal (Keren Hayesod), the fundraising arm of the State of Israel.

In February, after months of indecision, the selection committee disqualified all seven candidates who had been competing for the top job at the Jewish Agency until that point, and announced that it was beginning the process again from scratch. This was after it failed to reach a consensus on any of those candidates.

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