(June 21, 2018 / JNS) Israeli Opposition leader Isaac Herzog has been tapped to head the Jewish Agency after its search committee rejected the choice suggested by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Herzog will replace Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident 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.
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.
Netanyahu did not decide to contest the nomination and will instead nominate a candidate from his Likud Party for the post of the Jewish National Fund chairman, Haaretz reported.
The Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors is set to meet on Sunday to confirm the nomination. If confirmed, Herzog will begin his four-year term on Aug. 1.
Herzog, who has served in the Knesset since 2003, 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.
In a statement, Minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett welcomed Herzog’s nomination, saying he believes that Herzog can help be a bridge between Israeli and the Diaspora.
“The Jewish Agency has earned an honest person and man of values, who will contribute greatly to the consolidation between us and our brothers in the Diaspora,” said Bennett. “Especially now, when the relationship between the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry faces significant challenges, I am certain that Herzog will be able to create a true bridge between us and world Jewry.”
Following the nomination, Herzog thanked the committee for the nomination and expressed his desire to bridge the gap between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.
“In light of an appeal by Jewish leaders in the Diaspora, I agreed to take on the role of chairman of the Jewish Agency,” he said. “These are days of significant challenges concerning the relations between the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”