Race for Jewish Agency’s leadership heats up

October 14, 2021 by JNS
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The Jewish Agency may soon see a woman at its helm for the first time; five of the eight candidates seeking the chairmanship are women. The Agency’s Board of Governors is expected to announce the identity of the new chairperson by the end of the month.

Yaakov Hagoel, acting chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel Executive, with new Olim from 26 countries who recently joined the J.A.’s Ulpan Etzion in Jerusalem. Photo credit: Elad Brami

Established in 1929 as the operative branch of the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel is the largest Jewish nonprofit organization in the world. It is best known as the primary organization fostering aliyah (immigration) to Israel. Since 1948, the Jewish Agency has brought in more than 3 million immigrants to Israel.

The position of agency chairperson is considered highly influential, and many have thrown their hat in the ring after Isaac Herzog stepped down to become Israel’s president following the tenure of Reuven Rivlin.

The prime minister usually endorses a candidate, who must then be approved by the nominations committee and then by the agency’s board of governors.

Currently seeking the position are former Blue and White Knesset members Omer Yankelevich and Michal Cotler-Wunsh; Irina Nevzlin, head of the Museum of the Jewish People and who is married to Likud MK Yuli Edelstein; professor Yaffa Zilbershats, head of the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education; Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum; former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon; former Likud MK Uzi Dayan; and former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren.

On Wednesday, Israeli media reported that former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni may also join the race, with the backing of prime minister-designate Yair Lapid.

Lapid had planned to back fellow Yesh Atid Party member Elazar Stern for the role, but the intelligence minister withdrew from the race on Tuesday amid a public outcry over controversial comments he made earlier this week.

In a Facebook post announcing his retirement from the race, Stern wrote: “I apologize to anyone who has been hurt or offended by what I said and the interpretation given [to my words], and apologize to my family, which is standing firmly by me despite the difficulty. I will continue to do my best, wherever I may be, to ensure a better future for the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”

The Jewish Agency’s governing body comprises 10 members: five members representing the World Zionist Organization, three representing the Jewish Federations of North America, and two representing Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal.

The would-be chairperson needs to secure nine of the 10 members’ votes.

While the list of candidates is impressive, sources privy to the board’s work said that as of Tuesday, no front runner has emerged.

The panel is expected to meet to vote on the issue on Oct. 24.

Reporter:  Yori Yalon (Israel Hayom via JNS)

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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