(June 24, 2018 / JNS) The Jewish Agency for Israel unanimously elected Israeli Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog as its next executive.
Herzog will replace Natan Sharansky, a well-known former Soviet dissident and longtime refusnik who has served as the head of the Jewish Agency since 2009. A quasi-governmental organization, the Jewish Agency is best known for its role in fostering immigration to Israel, but also works to connect Jewish communities the world through various educational and community programs with Israel.
Yet in recent years, relations between the Israeli government and Diaspora Jewry have been strained due to a number of issues, including egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, as well as the Israeli Rabbinate’s control over Jewish conversion and marriage.
Upon his election, Herzog promised to work hard to build Jewish unity.
“A Jew is a Jew is a Jew, no matter his denomination or the type of kippah he chooses to wear or not to wear on his head. I promise to work hard on promote Jewish unity and to partner with the Prime Minister and the government to achieve this crucial goal,” said Herzog.
Outgoing Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky wished Herzog success.
“We are the only organization whose leadership includes representatives of both the coalition and the opposition, of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jewry, and of Jewish communities around the world. We are the independent voice of the Jewish people and, at the same time, our main partner is the government of Israel. It is essential that we preserve both our independence and our partnership, and I wish you much success in that crucial endeavor.”
Herzog’s appointment was made over the objections of Netanyahu, who had put forward Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz for the position and did not support Herzog. This was the first time in 23 years the committee rejected the choice by a prime minister.
Herzog, who has served in the Knesset since 2003, will resign his seat to begin his four-year term on Aug. 1. He led the Labor Party until being ousted last year by Avi Gabbay. Nevertheless, he remained as leader of the opposition because Gabbay currently does not sit in the Knesset. Herzog is expected to be replaced as opposition leader by Tzipi Livni.
American Jewish groups have begun to react positively to the election of Herzog.
“He is an inspired choice for a role essential in strengthening the bonds between the Jewish state and global Jewry. Isaac has a deep familiarity with global Jewry, based both on his decades of distinguished public service, and an extraordinary family tradition of leadership and commitment to the Jewish community,” UJA-Federation of New York CEO Eric S. Goldstein said in a statement.
“We look forward to working together with Isaac and the Jewish Agency to help ensure a bright future for Israel and the Jewish people.”
Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, said: “Isaac Herzog has the potential to lead the Jewish Agency to new heights, and I wish him the best of luck in his new role. The partnership between the State of Israel and world Jewry is crucial for both sides and can also lead to tensions. I know Herzog understands just how important his role is in maintaining this relationship.”