Isaac Herzog to head Jewish Agency despite Netanyahu's objection
Search committee to recommend opposition leader's nomination as chairman to organization's board of governors on Sunday, rejecting prime minister's candidate, Minister Yuval Steinitz; Herzog to step into Natan Sharansky's shoes by August 1.
The Jewish Agency's search committee will present its decision on Sunday to the organization's board of governors and recommend that Herzog serve in the position for four years. His term will begin by August 1.
Herzog tweeted on Thursday afternoon, "In light of an appeal I received from the Diaspora Jewry's leader, I have agreed to accept the position of Jewish Agency chairman. These are days of considerable challenges in the Jewish people's relations with the State of Israel."
Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay congratulated Herzog on the appointment, defining him as "the right man in the right place to reconnect the US and world Jewry to Israel."
Herzog's leading competitor for the position, Energy Minister Yuval Steiniz, wasn't summoned or interviewed by the search 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. 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 on Wednesday 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. The committee's decision remained unchanged, however, despite the prime minister's attempts to block Herzog's nomination.
Following the committee's decision, Netanyahu decided to cancel a meeting of the coordination committee between the government, the Jewish Agency and the WZO, which was scheduled for Monday.
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.