Israeli Opposition Leader Herzog Is Leading Candidate for Top Job at Jewish Agency

Successor to Natan Sharansky will be announced in the coming weeks. Other candidates include Michael Oren, Yuval Steinitz and Ron Prosor

Isaac Herzog at the Zionist Union party's meeting, May 21, 2018.
Emil Salman

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog is the frontrunner to succeed Natan Sharansky as chairman of the Jewish Agency, Haaretz has learned, and his appointment could be announced within the next few weeks.

According to sources close to the selection process, Herzog is considered the favored candidate among the American representatives on the board of governors of the Jewish Agency, one of the most important organizations in the Jewish world.

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Herzog, who also headed the Labor party prior to his ousting last summer and held various ministerial posts in past governments, is one of four candidates scheduled to be interviewed by a search committee next month. The other candidates are Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States who serves as a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and a member of Knesset from the center-right Kulanu party; Yuval Steinitz, a Likud lawmaker who serves as minister of national infrastructure, energy and water resources; and Ron Prosor, the former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and the United Kingdom.

Asked by Haaretz whether he would be interested in the job, Herzog said he was approached by Jewish leaders a few months ago about it.
"I think the Jewish Agency is an important organization, however I never answered positively nor am I aware of a process I am part of or of my chances of getting the position," he said.

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The search committee, headed by World Zionist Organization Chairman Avraham Duvdevani, is comprised of 10 members. According to the Jewish Agency bylaws, the candidate must be approved by nine of the 10 members. Once the search committee has made its choice, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be asked to give his final approval to the candidate.

Natan Sharansky pauses during an interview with the Associated Press, 2005.
AP

The search committee hopes to obtain final approval before the Jewish Agency Board of Governors convenes for its summer meeting at the end of June. Sharansky, formerly a Prisoner of Zion in the Soviet Union and prominent leader of Russian Jewry, will step down next month after a nine-year stint at the helm of the agency. 

Herzog, who continues to serve as opposition leader even though he is no longer head of the Labor party, has recently toned down his criticism of Netanyahu. Critics have suggested his desire to be appointed head of the Jewish Agency, which requires the prime minister’s approval, might be responsible for this new conciliatory approach.

Herzog called such claims "a blatant lie," citing criticism he leveled at Netanyahu for his handling of events in Gaza during a speech delivered Tuesday at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
"I am continuing my role as leader of the opposition with my full authority," he told Haaretz.

Netanyahu could come under pressure to appoint someone from his own party to the job. The sources contacted by Haaretz suggested, however, that a deal could be worked out whereby Herzog is appointed chairman of the Jewish Agency and in exchange, a member of Likud be named head of Keren Hayesod, its partner organization. Moody Zandberg, the chairman of Keren Hayesod, was forced to step down earlier this year after he was questioned on suspicion of taking bribes in the so-called “submarine affair.”

 As a result, that job is now open as well.  The case involves allegations of bribe-taking in a deal to purchase 1.5 billion euros worth of submarines and ships from Germany.