Netanyahu Struggling to Find Sharansky Successor at Jewish Agency

Various names have been floated for the top role, but politics and internal considerations are obstacles to choice

Head of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, at the government's weekly cabinet meeting, June 25, 2017.
Mark Israel Salem

About three months before Natan Sharansky is due to step down as chairman of the Jewish Agency, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not yet nominated Sharansky’s successor. At a meeting last week with the Jewish Agency board of trustees, the prime minister raised the name of the president of the Jerusalem Foundation, Johanna Arbib-Perugia, as a possible candidate, but the following day he said he would propose another candidate in the coming weeks, according to three sources.

Arbib-Perugia, a former chairwoman of the world board of trustees of Keren Hayesod, declined the prime minister’s offer to head the international Jewish organization, sources said. Speaking to Haaretz, she did not comment on the matter, saying only that it was her honor to meet with the prime minister, who proposed that she continue serving the Jewish people as she has been doing.

The chairperson of the agency is traditionally nominated by the prime minister and approved by a nominating committee comprised of Jewish world leaders, including representatives from the World Zionist Organization and Keren Hayesod, the international Jewish fundraising agency. Committee members had hoped to approve a candidate to be nominated by Netanyahu last week, but plans are being made for a delay in the process.

Among the names that have been raised in the committee are Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, Knesset opposition leader Isaac Herzog, Deputy Minister Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador in Washington, and Zionist Union Knesset member Nachman Shai. Other names raised are two former Israeli ambassadors to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman and Ron Prosor, as well as the president of Ben-Gurion University, Rivka Carmi, and the mayor of the West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, Benny Kashriel.

Shai’s name came up in the course of coalition negotiations between Netanyahu and former Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog, a source said. After Avi Gabbay succeeded Herzog as party chairman, Herzog himself was raised as a leading candidate, and he has the support of a number of people on the committee. But the source added that for political reasons, Netanyahu would not be likely to nominate Herzog.

Michael Oren is also considered a strong candidate, but his prospects are hurt by his membership in Kulanu, not Likud.