Yaakov Hagoel, making waves in the Zionist movement, Ukraine refugee aid

No. 20 on The Jerusalem Post's Top 50 Most Influential Jews of 2022: World Zionist Organization leader Yaakov Hagoel.

 World Zionist Organization leader Yaakov Hagoel. (photo credit: Elad Brami/Wikipedia)
World Zionist Organization leader Yaakov Hagoel.
(photo credit: Elad Brami/Wikipedia)

5782 was probably the most fulfilling year in Yaakov Hagoel’s life, and therefore he is listed as one of the most influential Jews in the world.

51-year-old Hagoel is the chairman of the executive of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), but in the past year he has also served as acting chairman of the Jewish Agency (JAFI) – since the selection committee wasn’t able to find a suitable candidate to replace him.

Even though he thought he would just temporarily speak at gala events and meet with senior world officials as JAFI chairman, the Russian-Ukrainian war made his role a lot more impactful and central. Hagoel was in command of the largest aliyah operation that JAFI has headed in the past 30 years. While the Russians were trying to destroy central cities in Ukraine, JAFI personnel were scattered along the countries bordering Ukraine, trying to help tens of thousands of Jews to escape the terror.

A genius move by the agency was to secure dozens of hotels in countries such as Poland and Moldova in order to house these Jewish refugees and assist them to immigrate to their historic homeland.

Hagoel also needed to lead negotiations with Russian officials after JAFI offices in Moscow received a letter from the Justice Ministry demanding its liquidation.

Yaakov Hagoel, chairman of the World Zionist Organization. (credit: Courtesy)Yaakov Hagoel, chairman of the World Zionist Organization. (credit: Courtesy)

When Basel became the center of attention

About two weeks later, he ended his temporary role in the agency. Hagoel was the center of a historic event that he initiated, 125 years after the first Zionist Congress in Basel Switzerland. These celebrations were in the works in the past year, and close to 2,000 Israelis and Diaspora Jews attended a three-day event, co-hosted by the Swiss government. The main speakers were the Israeli and Swiss presidents. Some of the top philanthropists and leaders in the Jewish world also participated. For the first time in decades, the event attracted hundreds of people from outside the official Zionist movement. Members of major Jewish organizations from across the world understood: that week that Basel had become the center of attention and discussion.

What has become the Jewish world’s best-kept secret is now shared with the entire world, and the reactions by participants were mostly outstanding.

Of course, Hagoel also received criticism during the past year. There were those who thought that he was trying to become a permanent chairman of JAFI, while others criticized the spending of millions of dollars on an expensive event in Basel.

Hagoel is a member of the Likud party and was elected on behalf of World Likud as WZO chairman. He grew up in the southern city of Arad and was a participant in the right-wing Beitar youth movement. Years later, he became the world director general of Beitar. Hagoel is, without a doubt, one of the most sophisticated politicians in the building of the national institutions. If you ask him, probably his biggest success in 5782 was the birth of his first grandson, a week before the 125-year celebration of modern-day Zionism.