Sharansky to Run Against Sharon Favorite Bielski for Jewish Agency Top Job

World Likud vote for Sharansky is being viewed as an anti-disengagement statement.

Former Diaspora affairs minister Natan Sharansky was elected Sunday night as World Likud's candidate for the post of Jewish Agency chairman in what is being viewed as an anti-disengagement statement.

Sharansky, who beat former minister Gideon Patt, will compete against Ra'anana Mayor Zeev Bielski, who is also a Likud member, when the Zionist General Council meets on Wednesday to appoint a new chairman. The post is held concurrently with the chairmanship of the Jewish Agency.

Officials in World Likud, which has a strong anti-disengagement contingent, opposed Bielski's candidacy from the outset because he was appointed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon without going through the faction.

The faction has mounted a legal challenge against Sharon because of his nomination of Bielski, arguing that he did not follow correct procedure. The Ra'anana mayor is scheduled to appear in Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday, along with Sharansky, who recently resigned from the government in opposition to the Gaza withdrawal plan. The move could delay the election, which is scheduled for Wednesday, until Friday or maybe even next week.

Despite the problems plaguing the candidacy of Bielski, who was originally considered a shoo-in for the position, most insiders continue to believe that his appointment will eventually be ratified. He enjoys wide support and received the all-important approval of the Jewish Agency's top funders via its Advise and Consent Committee.

A further complication for Sharansky are the legal problems going on inside World Likud, concerning irregularities in its own election process. The Tel Aviv District Court is expected to the rule on the matter in mid-July, which could call into question all decisions taken by the faction since 2002, including its selection last night of Sharansky as its candidate to head the Jewish Agency.