Natan Sharansky .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The US heads of the Jewish Agency and Jewish Federations of North America have given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a list of at least six candidates they deem worthy to succeed Natan Sharansky as Agency chairman, sources with knowledge of the thinking of the leadership of JFNA and lay leadership of the Agency told The Jerusalem Post exclusively on Sunday.
The list includes Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz; opposition leader Isaac Herzog; Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai; Consul-General in New York Dani Dayan; Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer and former ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor.
“These names are believed to be acceptable to both the Federations and Netanyahu,” the sources said.
Agency board of governors chairman Michael Siegal, JFNA president Jerry Silverman and JFNA Israel and overseas vice president Rebecca Caspi approved the names and asked Netanyahu for his nominee for the job.
The candidate agreed on by Netanyahu and Jewish leaders will be brought to a vote when the board of governors convenes in Jerusalem in February and will be sworn in at June’s Agency assembly.
The sources emphasized the sensitivity of the post amid clashes between Netanyahu and Diaspora leaders over egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall
and the chief rabbinate’s control over conversion.
Steinitz was thought to have the prestigious job in hand, but his candidacy may have been harmed by criminal investigations of two former advisers. While in the past it might have helped Netanyahu to clear a space in his cabinet, he currently wants to minimize turmoil there.
If Steinitz left, it was thought that Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis could be promoted to energy minister and coalition chairman David Bitan to Akunis’s current post. But Netanyahu now wants to keep Bitan as head of the coalition to keep it stable and avoid early elections.
The surprising candidacy of Dayan, a former settler leader, has been advanced recently after he proved himself an effective advocate for North American Jewry. One US Jewish leader described him as “a quick learner” and another said “he has been very different from what we expected and feared.”
Dayan said he was not dealing with the issue, that no one had spoken to him about it and that his appointment for his current job ends in August 2019 with the possibility of a one-year extension.
One source said Dayan could be an easier sell than Dermer, who has focused his ambassadorship on the White House
and other American politicians and has been criticized for not doing enough outreach to liberal American Jews.
Herzog’s associates said, "the opposition leader is thankful for the compliment, of which he was not aware, but he is staying in the Knesset." They added, "The Jewish Agency plays an important role, especially when relations between Diaspora Jews and Israel are sensitive. And we hope that a fitting replacement can be found for Sharansky, who fulfilled his role in such an impressive way."
Sources familiar with the thinking of the American Jewish leadership said they did not expect Netanyahu to have a problem with appointing his opposition leader, because their relationship has remained positive despite running against each other for the premiership.
A source at JFNA said officially that the organization’s leadership had not formally submitted a list of potential Jewish Agency chairmen, but had been party to general conversations about them.