MK Isaac Herzog.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog will replace Natan Sharansky as head of the Jewish Agency, the leadership nominating committee of the Jewish Agency announced Thursday, even though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not want him to receive the post.
Herzog will assume office no later than August 1 for a four-year term, pending the approval Sunday of the Agency's board of governors. His selection was made possible by changes in the Agency's bylaws that no longer require the prime minister's approval.
"Your experience in the Knesset and the government, combined with your deep experience with the Diaspora and your commitment to the unity of the Jewish people makes you the ideal candidate to take over the reins of the Jewish Agency," the members of the selection committee wrote Herzog in a letter.
Herzog said he accepted the post, because of what he called "the significant challenges that lie ahead for the relationship between the Jewish people and the State of Israel."
Politicians from across the political spectrum, including Avi Gabbay who replaced Herzog as Labor leader and Naftali Bennett and Bezalel Smotrich of Bayit Yehudi released statements praising the appointment. But Netanyahu immediately canceled a meeting of coordination with the Agency leadership that was set for next Monday.
Agency Board of Governors head Michael Siegal, who headed the search committee, told Netanyahu Wednesday that the committee wanted to give the job to Herzog. The committee voted eight to one in favor of Herzog Wednesday morning. Netanyahu responded that he wants to give the job to his political ally, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz.
Herzog's associates had repeatedly denied that he was interested in the job, but sources close to him said Thursday that he had been working behind the scenes for months to obtain the post. Aides to Herzog also said Tuesday night that no meeting with the search committee was scheduled - hours ahead of when the meeting took place.
Netanyahu's associates have also not been truthful. One said in a private conversation that the prime minister had a mystery candidate for the post who has not been the subject of speculation. But Netanyahu ultimately endorsed Steinitz, who was on the list of candidates for the position that The Jerusalem Post revealed exclusively in November.
Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Michael Oren decided not to seek the Agency chairmanship. He wrote Siegal a letter saying that he would rather remain in national politics.
"I strongly believe that through my continued involvement in, and commitment to, the political sphere I can make the greatest contribution to Israel and the Jewish People," Oren wrote. "As deputy minister in the Prime Minister's Office and a member of Knesset for the Kulanu Party, I can best advocate for Diaspora Jewry within the Israeli government. My presence in the coalition ensures that Diaspora positions on crucial issues such as the Kotel and conversion are represented and heard."
Sharansky intends to leave his post next week, when the Board of Governors meets, after nine years as agency chairman.
After Herzog receives the post, Gabbay, who is not an MK, will select a new leader of the opposition. Gabbay's ally, MK Shelly Yacimovich, is considered the leading candidate, but MK Tzipi Livni reportedly threatened in private conversations to break up the Zionist Union if Gabbay does not select her. Herzog will be replaced in the Knesset by the next name on the Zionist Union list, former Kadima MK Robert Tibaev.
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