Natan Sharansky was elected today to a second four-year term as chairman of the Jewish Agency in a unanimous vote by the organization’s Board of Governors. Deputy Chairman Rany Trainin was also reelected to a second term.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking on Monday to the Board of Governors in Jerusalem, urged its members to extend Sharansky’s appointment.
Sharansky, a former dissident, was incarcerated for nine years in the Soviet Union. After his release in 1986, he immigrated to Israel where he was reunited with his wife Avital. He served as a member of the Knesset for nine years and as industry and trade minister, interior minister, housing and construction minister, Jerusalem affairs minister and deputy prime minister. After leaving political life, he was elected chairman of the Jewish Agency in 2009.
In his role as chairman of the Jewish Agency, Sharansky has put greater emphasis on building bridges between Israel and Diaspora Jewry and less focus on what was traditionally the organization’s outstanding mission of promoting aliyah.
One of the projects he has actively pushed in recent years has been increasing the number of young Jewish Agency envoys – known as “Israel Fellows” – on college campuses across the United States. These envoys play a key role in recruiting participants on to Taglit-Birthright – the free 10-day trips to Israel financed by private donors and the Israeli government.
In recent months, one of the most contentious Israel-Diaspora issues that Sharansky has been engaged in has been government policy concerning prayer at the Western Wall. Recent clashes between police and members of Women of the Wall, a women’s group that holds a monthly prayers service at the wall, have provoked outrage in the non-Orthodox Jewish world, prompting the prime minister to seek Sharansky’s intervention.
Sharansky told a meeting of the Board of Governors earlier today that his recommendations on the matter would not be presented before a new coalition is formed.