NATAN SHARANSKY at his Jewish Agency office in Jerusalem. A picture of the Kotel hangs on the wall behind him..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Long-time chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky has agreed to extend his term by another year, upon the request of the board of governors.
Sharansky had previously stated his intention to step down at the end of his second four-year term in June. American members of the board, however, were keen for him to stay on in order to see through unresolved issues pertaining to the various religious Jewish streams.
Sharansky was mulling the request and his final decision was announced Tuesday at the closing plenary of the board of governors’ winter meetings.
A statement released by the Jewish Agency noted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had also expressed his support for Sharansky’s continued service as the organization’s chairman.
“Our work is very important and very inspiring and it is the best guarantee of the future of the Jewish people. Although I was skeptical of the value of remaining for an additional year, what has taken place in recent months has convinced me that it is important that I remain,” Sharansky told the board members.
Sharansky spearheaded the agreement to create a state-recognized pluralistic prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall, which has yet to be implemented, constituting a major source of frustration – an issue he addressed on Tuesday.
“Our ongoing discussions with the government on the Western Wall and related matters have reached a sensitive point, and I will do everything necessary to ensure that the successful negotiations of recent years bear tangible fruit. The prime minister has signaled his intention to move toward a conclusion of the matter of the Western Wall by appointing [Regional Cooperation] Minister Tzachi Hanegbi as the coordinator of this important effort. Additionally, the events of recent months have resulted in a deep polarization between some Jews in America and some in Israel, and it is imperative that we do whatever we can to unite our people,” he said. “That will be our task in the year to come.”
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The board of governors also elected Michael D. Siegal, former chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Jewish Federations of North America, as chairman of the board of governors and David Breakstone, former vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization, as deputy chairman of the executive.
Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel is World Likud’s candidate to replace Sharansky, but earlier this month The Jerusalem Post learned that American members of the board of governors had rejected his candidacy. Likud sources told the Post that Netanyahu was seeking a candidate experienced in Diaspora affairs who can heal his relationship with American Jews in a way Kashriel cannot.
But it appears as though Kashriel is keen to prove otherwise. On Tuesday, he met with American members of the board and on Wednesday released a statement shortly after the Jewish Agency did, demanding an explanation from Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett regarding the disruption of Women of the Wall’s Rosh Hodesh prayer service in the women’s section on Monday morning.Haredi men jostled the women
as they entered, disrupted the service in various ways and national-religious high-school girls were also brought to the Western Wall as a form of protest by hardline national-religious organizations against Women of the Wall.
In addition, Kashriel expressed his dismay that a bat mitzva ceremony in the women’s section was disrupted.
The statement stressed that Kashriel is an “ardent supporter for the immediate implementation” of Sharansky’s plan for an egalitarian prayer space by the Robinson Arch. “In this, the 50th year since the reunification of Jerusalem, Jews worldwide from all streams in Judaism must feel comfortable at the Western Wall, regardless of their affiliation,” the mayor emphasized.
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