Isaac Herzog or Yuval Steinitz: Who will be the Jewish Agency's next chairman?
The agency's search committee recommends appointing opposition leader Herzog to replace Natan Sharansky, but Prime Minister Netanyahu suddenly endorses Energy Minister Steinitz, urging the committee members to interview him and consider his nomination.
The committee, which is comprised of 10 representatives from the World Zionist Organization (WZO), Keren HaYesod—United Israel Appeal (UIA), the Jewish Agency and the Jewish Federations of North America, voted nine to one in favor of Herzog.
Herzog's leading competitor for the position, Energy Minister Yuval Steiniz, wasn't summoned or interviewed by the committee. Knesset Member Nachman Shai of the Zionist Union didn't pass the selection process.
The committee members, led by WZO Chairman Avraham Duvdevani, met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and presented him with their recommendation. Netanyahu made it clear to them that he objects to Herzog's appointment and that Steinitz is his favored candidate for the position.
Up until then, Netanyahu had avoided recommending Steinitz for the post, and the committee had reviewed a long list of candidates before narrowing it down to two final nominees—Herzog and Steinitz.
Netanyahu asked the committee members if they had met with Steinitz, and when they told him they hadn't, he was furious and convinced them to meet with him on Thursday and only then present a final recommendation to the Jewish Agency's board of governors, which will convene on Sunday for three days. In the days leading up to the meeting, the prime minister is expected to work behind the scenes to thwart Herzog's selection and get the committee members to support Steinitz's nomination.
Sources in the agency's board of governors have cautiously estimated that the committee members will eventually adopt Netanyahu's stance and select Steinitz as the agency's next chairman.
Sources in the agency blamed the prime minister for the awkward situation, saying that Netanyahu had failed to endorse Steinitz four months ago, which is why the minister wasn't summoned for an interview.
Herzog's position among the Jewish federations in the United States is very strong and he is perceived as someone who could work to unite the Jewish people following the crises over the Western Wall plan and the conversion bill, but the board of governors has never gone against the prime minister's opinion when approving a nominee for Jewish Agency chairman.
At the end of Sallai Meridor's term as the agency's chairman, the Jewish federations in the US wanted to replace him with Sharansky, but then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon eventually convinced them to select Ze'ev Bielski.
On the other hand, never before has the prime minister endorsed a candidate who received only one vote from the search committee.
Sources connected to the search committee say Netanyahu has failed to support Steinitz so far, implying that his strong objection to Herzog's nomination might be another trick aimed at claiming the leadership of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL) later on, as part of the division of positions in the Zionist institutions between Israel's major parties. The KKL leadership is currently held by the Labor Party, and if Herzog is appointed Jewish Agency chairman, Likud will likely demand the KKL leadership.
Herzog has said in closed forums that he plans to seriously consider the job, which he defined as an important position for the Jewish people, if he receives an official offer. An associate to Netanyahu noted that "Steinitz is an excellent candidate."
Jewish Agency spokesman Yigal Palmor said in response that a decision on the identity of the agency's next chairman has yet to be made.